Synopsis: The Way Way Back is the funny and poignant coming of age story of 14-year-old Duncan’s (Liam James) summer vacation with his mother, Pam (Toni Collette), her overbearing boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell), and his daughter, Steph (Zoe Levin). Having a rough time fitting in, the introverted Duncan finds an unexpected friend in gregarious Owen (Sam Rockwell), manager of the Water Wizz water park. Through his funny, clandestine friendship with Owen, Duncan slowly opens up to and begins to finally find his place in the world – all during a summer he will never forget.
Release Date: July 5, 2013 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Drama, Comedy
Every summer movie season needs a feel-good, dramatic comedy to even out the abundance of special effects laden pictures. It is the “Little Miss Sunshine” effect, and for 2013 that movie is The Way Way Back.
Written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash in their feature-film directing debut, from a script that was featured on the Black List, The Way Way Back blends drama and comedy to create a heartwarming coming of age story told over the course of one summer. You follow 14-year old Duncan (Liam James) as he is forced to spend the summer with his mother, Pam (Toni Collette), and her boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell), along with his daughter Steph (Zoe Levin) at Trent’s beach house. Duncan is the odd-ball teenager, who is more attune to belting out REO Speedwagon songs alone than socializing with other kids his age. His summer vacation at the beach finds him wearing jeans and t-shirts, instead of swim trunks, and brooding around the neighborhood. He’s awkward and shy; the atypical male teenager in need of a coming out. It is not that Duncan is a miserable teenager, or ill-mannered even, he’s just lonely and feels out of place. He wishes he was with his father, in San Diego, instead of with Trent–a man who is anything but a good father figure. The first notion of this comes from a conversation between the two where Trent asks Duncan on a scale of 1 to 10 what he believes he is. When Duncan answers a 6 Trent quickly admonishes his choice and tells him he is a 3, and no better, but with some work he may be able to improve. Stepfather-to-be of the year is not in Trent’s future, nor is father of the year when you realize just how miserable his daughter Steph is as well.
As a divorced mother of a certain age, Pam looks the other way, or just does not seem to notice, how Duncan feels about and around Trent. Nor does she acknowledge the way he does not treat her as well as she should be treated. The drama surrounding the home life of Duncan and Pam, in the midst of Trent and Steph, is presented not with melodramatic flair but subtle truth. When tensions flare, the communication between everyone mimics a reality anyone can relate to, as well as the emotions that occur at the same time. The story also includes plenty of odd-ball sidekicks for everyone to interact with, from Allison Janney’s turn as the drunk-neighbor with a good heart and plenty of jokes to go around, or the close friends of Trent, Joan (Amanda Peet) and Kip (Rob Corddry), who turn every night into a middle-aged spring break party; and it quickly causes the adults to “forget” their children exist. The Way Way Back has plenty to say about relationships, be them between mother and son, man and woman, or friends and acquaintances. The story is not exactly unique, its the delivery that sets it apart with the consistent flow of upheavals and discoveries for Duncan. Plus the detailed analysis of how adults interact with their children, each other, and the concept of growing older, alone or with someone else. This is of course mingled together with off-beat comedy thanks to the impeccable writing of Faxon and Rash.
What Duncan needs is to find himself, and people who accept him. He finds this in an unlikely source, over a game of PacMan, with Owen (Sam Rockwell), the manager of the local water park ‘Water Wizz.’ Owen becomes a friend and father-figure to Duncan. The rest of the Water Wizz crew assist as well, including Maya Rudolph’s Caitlin and Nat Faxon’s Roddy. It is this group, Janney’s character aside, that provide the comedy in The Way Way Back–be it in the dry witted delivery all of the actors are incredible at achieving, especially Sam Rockwell. Duncan’s time at the water park will help him discover who he is and what place in the world he can find at this moment in his life. He’ll come out of his shell, make friends, and even realize there is a great deal more to life than what is happening to him; other people have their own challenges too.
The Way Way Back is a movie to feel good about seeing, and one that will undoubtedly warm your heart with its sweet nature. You can’t help but enjoy the story, dramatic and comedic events both included.
Sam Rockwell has played a variety of characters on screen, some funny (Gentlemen Broncos, others dramatic, Moon), but all with a level of talent to admire. In The Way Way Back he masters the dry-wit of his character Owen, and gives viewers more than their fair share of chuckles along the way. He is not alone, Maya Rudolph, his possible girlfriend (?), bites back at him the way Rudolph does so well as fellow Water Wizz employee Caitlin. The two of them together, playing off one another and bantering with perfect timing, makes you realize just how great the casting in The Way Way Back is–everyone melds together perfectly, while maintaining their own distinct personalities and quirks. Adding to Rockwell and Rudolph, the other unlikely stand-out comedic performance comes from Peter (River Alexander), the son of Janney’s hilarious drunkard who has a wondering eye (or something). When he dons the eye patch, or deals with his mother telling him his eye makes people uncomfortable, the poor kid takes it, and with a funny blurb of his own.
Now, if you’re coming to The Way Way Back in search of a Steve Carell comedy, you are in the wrong place. He is funny, by being a complete ass, but his character is not going to tickle your funny bone. This is a more dramatic turn for Carell, and his comedic talents take a back seat to the rest of cast.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Nat Faxon
- Screenwriter(s): Nat FaxonJim Rash
- Cast: Steve Carell (Trent)AnnaSophia Robb (Susanna)Sam Rockwell (Owen) Amanda Peet (Joan)Maya Rudolph (Caitlyn)Toni Collette (Joan)Liam James (Duncan)Rob Corddry (Kip)Jim Rash (Lewis)Allison Janney (Betty)
- Cinematographer: John Bailey
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Rob Simonsen
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA