There are coming-of-age films and then there are coming-of-age films…
…and then there’s The Way, Way Back.
The Way, Way Back tells the tale of 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James), an awkward kid who feels so out of place in the world and his own life that he sits in the way, way back seat of the Vista Cruiser that ALSO faces the back of the car as he and his mother, Pam (Toni Collette) join her overbearing boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell) and his daughter, Steph (Zoe Levin) on a vacation to Trent’s summer home. While quietly exploring the town, Duncan finds an unlikely friend in the outgoing and cool-as-hell Owen (Sam Rockwell), manager of the Water Wizz water park, and he unexpectedly lands a summer job. While working his (secret) summer job with Owen, Duncan figures out how the world works and his place in it.
WARNING: Steve Carell is NOT a nice guy in this film so if you’re expecting the same guy you came to know and love in “The Office”, The 40-Year-Old Virgin or Crazy Stupid Love, it’s not gonna happen…which is WHY I loved this movie.
And while it’ll be enjoyed universally, children of divorce will especially relate to this film on SO many levels. Those who grew up with their mothers and endured the revolving door of boyfriends; ones who seem like a nice guy to the rest of the world but in reality they’re just really good at being mean under the guise of “toughening them up for the real world.” THIS is Trent and Duncan’s relationship to a T.
Carell hits that role spot on to the point that the entire screening room found themselves saying “WOOOOOOW” or flat out calling him an “a–hole” within the first five minutes.
Toni Collette is wonderful as Duncan’s mom, Pam; a woman who wants nothing more than for she and her son to be happy and healthy (to the point of accepting things she shouldn’t) but it’s the neighbor Betty (Allison Janney) who practically steals every scene she’s in with her sense of humor and WAY too much TMI about not only their friends but her own family. Betty actually reminded me of another Allison Janney character I loved – Loretta from the 1999 classic comedy Drop Dead Gorgeous, a mockumentary about a small-town beauty pageant.
I’ve never met a Sam Rockwell role I didn’t like and I can happily add Owen to this list – he was the perfect balance between “Super Fun Guy” and “Sage Advice Guy” which equaled a great mentor for young Duncan. If Jedis were allowed to have fun on their days off, he’d be the Jedi Master setting up the party. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about Maya Rudolph as Caitlin, Water Wizz staff member (and Owen’s on-and-off lady) who also serves as Owen’s own voice of reason. She’s another who I just can’t help but love in everything she’s in.
Too often, a film suffers when there’s two directors at the helm but not here; writers and directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash have put together a pitch perfect follow-up to their Oscar-winning film The Descendants and the parts they play as Water Wizz staff Roddy and Lewis are an absolute joy – Lewis reminds me a LOT of Buster from That 70’s Show mixed in with a dash of Eeyore from Winnie The Pooh while Roddy is that really cool guy that gets along with virtually anyone.
The kids are all wonderful in their own way. Liam James does a great job as the introvert and his growth and progression throughout the film is seamless; AnnaSophia Robb as Duncan’s neighbor (and Betty’s daughter) has a subtle cool that makes you fall in love with her while Zoe Levin (Trent’s daughter, Steph) plays that bitchy teen mean girl role to annoying perfection…but when it comes to who runs away with the scenes, it’s all River Alexander as Peter – who (despite the lazy eye) you just KNOW is gonna grow up to be a majorly cool kid.
Were there any blips in the film? NO.
Am I gushing over this film? ABSOLUTELY.
These coming-of-age films often rely on crude humor, excessive foul language and (let’s face it) excessive nudity. The Way, Way Back has none of these things and is a film that you can go see with your ENTIRE family without those awkward moments of seeing breasts or bottoms jumping into frame while sitting between your parents.
The Way, Way Back is also pitch perfect when not only showing Duncan’s growth…but that of another character who might surprise you.
I’m predicting (and expecting) MULTIPLE Oscar nominations for this film because not only did Faxon and Rash do an amazing job of writing/directing as a team, they were smart enough to get the RIGHT people for the job. As soon as the film ended, I wanted to see it again right then and there; I nearly asked if I could hit another screening as I walked out but I want to give this film the support it deserves and will happily pay the price of admission to see it again and own it when it hits DVD.
I don’t give out 10/10’s very often; in fact, the last film of this nature I gave a 10/10 was the Bill Murray/Chris Makepeace classic, Meatballs.
And that’s what I’m giving The Way, Way Back – 10/10. Faxon and Rash create a masterful coming-of-age film that does NOT disappoint; you’ll laugh, get a little angry, happily shed a few tears…and perhaps walk out a little wiser.
The Way, Way Back is rated PG-13 and opens in limited release this Friday (July 5th) before expanding wider over the course of the month.
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