You may not recall how uncomfortable it feels to be 14 years old. But I do. Not old enough to drive, attracted to girls but uncomfortable around them, wanting to be active but having few opportunities to do things.
The Way, Way Back is the story of Duncan (Liam James) and his summer in a Massachusetts shore town, spent with his mom Pam (Toni Collette) and her recent boyfriend Trent (Steve Carrell). Trent’s daughter Steph (Zoe Levin) is along for the ride, too. She’s an older teen who snubs Duncan and helps herself to her dad’s beers.
Trent is a total dick to Duncan who instantly resents Trent and his relationship with his mom. Truly, he’s more despicable in this movie than in Despicable Me 2 (which, by the way, is already the #3 movie for all of 2013).
While the grownups drink and toke and cavort, Duncan finds a friend in Owen (Sam Rockwell), the manager of a water park. Owen offers Duncan a job and the kid finds a place where he has a purpose. Slightly older neighbor girl Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb) becomes a friend. And, eventually, so does her nerdy little brother Peter (River Alexander).
Parallel to Duncan’s discomfort is that of his mom Pam. She’s not quite the party person that Trent and his shore friends are. She tries to be just as carefree, but she can’t quite pull it off.
The Way, Way Back has a timeless feel. Trent’s car is an old Buick station wagon with a rear-facing back seat (which gives the movie its title) where Duncan sits. The shore town has a mid-20th century look. Duncan first meets Owen at a Pac-Man game in a pizza joint. The water park appears older, more like Raging Rivers (Grafton, Illinois) than Hurricane Harbor (Eureka, Missouri). We don’t see characters grabbing laptops, iPads or smartphones—or even watching TV.
The original script is by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash who worked on the Oscar-winning screenplay for 2011’s best movie, The Descendants. Faxon and Rash also are co-directors of The Way, Way Back.
Special acting honors go to Sam Rockwell, whose character has warmth and charm but is also a hilarious goofball, and Toni Collette, who is brilliant as the insecure girlfriend who has to balance her relationships with Trent and Duncan.
The Way, Way Back is a perfect summertime movie. It’s a drama; it’s a comedy. It has characters, locations and situations many of us can relate to. And, after a spring and summer of loud and explosive movies, The Way, Way Back is a breath of fresh ocean air.