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Movie Review: The Way, Way Back

July 20, 2013

Bringing a coming of age story to the screen can be tricky business. As a filmmaker, you have to walk the line between being sweet or sappy. The Way, Way Back does so perfectly. Helmed by writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (The Descendants) the movie is a wonderful blend of humor and heart. Well-rounded performances boost the movie into must see status.

The Way, Way Back tells the tale of Duncan (Liam James), a withdrawn teenager embarking on an awkward adolescence. It doesn’t help matters any that his mom’s boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) emasculates him every chance he gets. His mom (Toni Collette) passively observes this behavior, no doubt so she won’t rock the boat with her boyfriend. Duncan is forced to spend the summer in Cape Cod at Trent’s beach house, along with his mother and Trent’s daughter. It’s a miserable situation for Duncan, to say the least.

Things perk up a bit when Duncan meets the neighbor’s daughter Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb) who seems disinterested in hanging out with the cool kids in the neighborhood.  She explains to Duncan “this place is like Spring Break for adults.”  And indeed it is.  The adults gather nightly for booze and pot filled parties on the beach, and the children are left to their own devices.

Duncan finds a bit of respite when he dusts off an old (very pink) bicycle from the garage and discovers an antiquated water park. There he meets Owen (Sam Rockwell), the smart-ass park manager. When Duncan takes a job at the park, the two become fast friends. Duncan’s confidence burgeons as the summer passes, and he emerges from the experience an entirely different young man than when he arrived.

The Way, Way Back features a very gifted cast. Allison Janney is a riot as one of the perpetually drunk neighbors; it’s easily one of her best performances. Sam Rockwell’s Owen is also wickedly funny as he spews some of the best dialogue you’re likely to hear in a movie this year. Maya Rudolph and writers Faxon and Rash are park employees who form a tribe of strange misfits along with Owen and Duncan.  Carell plays well against type as an asshole boyfriend, and Collette is convincing as self-serving mother who puts her needs well above Duncan’s.

As for James, he initially captures the angst of a teenager, but it’s truly a delight to watch Duncan’s transformation over the summer. The Way, Way Back is the perfect package of nostalgia, wit and drama. It is one of the best films of the summer, if not the year.

Rating 4/5


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