The 'coming-of-age' tales are not a rarity these days in Hollywood. They always have a dour young boy, a vintage automobile, beautiful girl, abusive or divorced parents and an awe-inspiring figure. Nat Faxon & Jim Rash's "The Way Way Back" (2013) has all these elements and travels in a well-trodden path, but the characters here are very well developed and realized in an excellent manner. The movie is flavored with mixture of loneliness, romance and nostalgia. The film has the charm of timelessness, even though smart phones and ear buds are present.
Duncan (Liam James), the fourteen-old boy is in a bittersweet boy as he sits in the back of a ’70s-vintage Vista Cruiser. He, his mother, Pam (Toni Collette), her car-dealer boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carrell) and his daughter, Steph (Zoe Levin) are all traveling to Trent's beach house in Cape Cod. Things get to a bad start, when the despicable Trent tells Duncan that on a scale of one to ten, he’s a three. Upon the arrival at the beach house, we see, Trent’s boozy neighbor Betty (Janney). Steph hates her new brother, but the beautiful Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb), Betty's daughter is friendly to Duncan.
Later, Trent's friends Kip (Rob Corddry) and Joan (Amanda Peet) and they all drink together, staying up late. In the morning, Duncan finds a bike and rides into town and ends up at 'Water Wizz' amusement park. The oddball manager, Owen (Sam Rockwell) likes the awkward kid. He is a manic, but mentors Duncan, tries every trick to make him smile and teaches a lot to the troubled protagonist. There are job offers, breakdowns, betrayals and first-kiss, accompanied with the heartwarming performances and characters.
Nat Faxon and Jim Rash make their directorial debut. The TV comedy veterans also play funny sidekick roles at 'Water Wizz.' The duo previously wrote screenplay for Alexander Payne's heart-trending family-drama, "The Descendants" and has won an Oscar. Although the cast has big names like Steve Carrell, Sam Rockwell, the script mostly focuses on Duncan-- his transformation over the summer and his reconnection with the mother. The amusement park scenes are laced with good humor, which underplays both emotional explosions and comic moments. Even the Trent character is shown as a flawed one rather than a villainous guy. He just behaves like obnoxious teenager, who isn't equipped for parenthood.
From Duncan to Peter (Betty's younger son), "The Way Way Back" has paid attention to every character. Each of the small characters tells a full story. We can identify with the minimal character, played by director Rash, whose life moves in a cycle, which he can’t break. The director duos has entrusted their movie on the shoulders of Liam James and he doesn't let them down. He perfectly embodies the quirkiness and angst of a teenager. Steve Carrell plays against type as Trent. He is despicable and unsympathetic, at the same time; he doesn't turn the character into a monster. Sam Rockwell plays a outstanding supporting role and he is a delight to watch. Collette gracefully plays a woman, who tries to balance her son's interests with her own.
"The Way Way Back" finds a middle ground between the teen romance and adult farce. It is funny, uplifting and incurably confident. What more could you expect from a coming-of-age tale?
The Way Way Back -- IMDb