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The Way Way Back

The Way Way Back

What She said:


I could try to make up some philosophical reason for why this movie is called The Way, Way Back but I honestly don’t know.  It’s really a coming of age story about a boy, Duncan, who is struggling with life as a teenager—dealing with girls, his mom’s annoying boyfriend, Trent, and general social anxiety.  He’s an awkward kid, constantly doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, but his heart seems to be in the right place.  But one summer spent at the beach with his mom, Trent, and Trent’s daughter, Steph, will help to shape the person he will become.  

This movie is really great because it seems real.  Duncan is dealing with problems that a lot of teenagers have had to cope with.  He’s not the most popular kid, and he’s juggling the stress of his mother’s new relationship, and, well, just growing up.  Duncan clearly wants to get away, even from his mother, whom he deeply loves but whom he sees the worst come out of when Trent is around.  As the viewer, you’ll also experience this.  You truly feel for Duncan because so many of us have been there or at least felt the same emotions he’s coping with.

Duncan retreats to a magical place called Water Wizz.  Water Wizz is a dive waterpark somewhat close to where Duncan’s family is staying.  It looks like it hasn’t been updated since the 1980s and let’s just say it’s not very well managed.  The manager is a 30-something deadbeat named Owen who actually goofs off like he’s a teenager.  It’s implied that he’s a lifer working at Water Wizz, never aspiring for anything better and actually living there at the park.  But Owen takes a liking to Duncan, gives him a part time job, and pseudo-mentors him into being a more confident kid.  The film culminates with Duncan’s realization that he must go back to his normal life sooner or later, and coming to grips with the fact that his utopia will eventually end.

The Way, Way Back is both fantasy and harsh reality.  Like I said, you’ll definitely connect with Duncan, who channels some of the major issues and challenges that we all face as teenagers.  The world of Water Wizz is so out there that it feels almost unreal.  But it also seems like a whole lot of fun.  The movie balances some very serious themes with a good amount of comedy.  There are moments that are lighthearted and refreshing, while by contrast there are also those that will evoke anger and disgust, particularly as they pertain to Trent.

The Way Way Back

The acting in this film is excellent.  The kid who plays Duncan, Liam James, is very good.  Also, we get the chance to see Steve Carell play a truly unlikable guy.  It’s counter to what you’ve always known of him, and he actually does a decent job.  I really enjoyed Allison Janney as the spunky mess of a next door neighbor.  She was a trip, but also brings with her an air of negativity as she is a poor influence on so many around her and generally not the best of mothers.  Of course, my favorite character in the movie was Owen, played by the exceptionally talented Sam Rockwell.  He really has the capacity to play many roles, and he embraces the bummy Owen fully, giving the character life, but also lending him a somewhat pathetic nature.  He adds depth to the character for sure.  

Early on, I wasn’t sure if I was really going to like this movie.  I felt like it was heading in the direction of so many others in being too much of a “dark comedy”—you know, one of those pretentious movies that thinks it’s funnier than it really is.  Dark comedies, as they’re called, often try to find humor in places where I have trouble seeing any jest, like suicide.  But despite The Way, Way Back’s slow start is definitely picks up momentum and becomes a very engaging film.  I got very into it, and by the end was, like Duncan, sad to leave the world of Water Wizz.  For those who like coming of age-style movies, or the more subtle comedy, this one will be for you.

Thumbs up.

The Way Way Back

What He said:


Duncan (Liam James) is a shy kid. No scratch that, he’s not just shy, he is straight up awkward. He is a good kid. He doesn’t cause any problems. However, he likely has some kind of social disorder or at the very least anxiety type of issues going on. This makes him a target for some people.

Cue Trent and Steph. Trent (Steve Carell) is his mom’s boyfriend and Steph (Zoe Levin) is his daughter. Trent is tough on Duncan to the point where it could be considered emotional abuse at times; which is surprising considering he lets his daughter do whatever she wants. As a result, Steph is self-centered and quite mean; especially to Duncan.  

Unfortunately for Duncan, his mom is pretty smitten for Trent. Pam (Toni Collette) seems to be reliving her youth through her relationship with Trent. Trent is a pretty popular guy, particularly in the seaside community in Cape Cod where he has a beach house. He is always around people and she likes that. I imagine her relationship with him is a big change of pace for the previously single mom.

So, Duncan is shit out of luck when it comes to having friends there. Trent and Pam are busy partying, Steph is busy partying and being cruel to Duncan, and he doesn’t know anyone else in this tight-knit and gossipy community.
Because he has nothing to do or anything to do it with, Duncan gets the idea to go exploring one day. While on a bike ride around the community, Duncan has what appears to be a rather uneventful encounter with a man named Owen. It leaves an impression on him though. Owen (Sam Rockwell) is the very laid back manager of Water Wizz.  Some might even call him a slacker, but his carefree personality has turned him into a minor celebrity; at least within the walls of Water Wizz. Duncan goes on a journey to discover where Owen works and begins to hang out at Water Wizz. Owen notices the kid doesn’t have any friends, so he takes him under his wing, and offers him a job. Duncan quickly becomes a member of the Water Wizz family and gains some confidence in the process.

The Way Way Back

Oh and have I mentioned that he doesn’t tell anyone about the job? He sneaks off early in the morning and returns at the ending of the day, which causes his mother to worry, and Trent to flex his muscles once again.

Despite the issues with them, Duncan gets close to his Water Wizz family, as well as two of the kids next door. Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb) and her brother Peter (River Alexander) are the children of Trent’s zany neighbor Betty (Allison Janney). Peter also doesn’t have many friends, so they get along, and he has a lot more in common with Susanna than he would have initially though.

As the summer goes on, one part of his life is going great, while the other continues to get harder to cope with.
I have to say, I absolutely loved this movie. It was funny, touching, well-acted, and just had the special quality that made it a relatable and all-around enjoyable experience. It had that certain quality that reminds of some of the great coming-of-age comedy/dramas of the 80s.

Liam James was excellent. I have never heard of this kid before, but boy he has some acting chops. Watching the character of Duncan evolve from an insecure into a funny and confident young man wouldn’t have been possible without his strong performance. Speaking of which, Sam Rockwell was also fantastic. He was great as Owen, who is a slacker for the most part, but also full of some wisdom when the moment calls for it. I also really enjoyed Toni Collette’s performance too. I’ve really come to like her over the years. She plays a normal person very well. She is very believable performer. AnnaSophia Robb also showed some great poise. I know she’s done a few kids movies and has evolved, but I actually haven’t seen a lot of her. I know she’s an up-and-comer and I can see why.  She’s got some skills. The kid who played Peter (River Alexander) was absolutely hilarious, especially with Allison Janney, who played his mother. There’s a lot of good performances in this movie from the leads right down to background roles.

I enjoyed this movie tremendously, even more so than some nominees and award winners I have seen in the last couple of years. I thought it was very well done.

Rating: Thumbs up.

This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on October 30, 2013.