The Way, Way Back is a coming of age comedy starring Sam Rockwell, Steve Carell and Liam James, about an awkward boy on a summer trip with his mother and step father, trying to find a place for himself in a world where he doesn’t fit in.
A boy named Duncan (Liam James) is taking a trip to a summer beach house with his mother her douche bag boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell), whom he hates. He doesn’t fit in with Trent’s daughter, or anyone around and therefore just wants to go stay with his dad. However, he meets a friendly water park manager (Sam Rockwell) who takes him under his wing and a girl who seems to like him for who he is, and his summer becomes way more than he was expecting.
My first impression of this film was one of worry. I immediately, from the get go, began to feel as though the film was going to take a very, very heavy handed approach to the subject matter of an awkward boy with family problems who is trying to come of age. Full of clichés, and over the top situations that lack depth and thought. The first few moments had me feeling this way, but I can say that those worries were certainly not justified. What followed was a film, which got deeper as the story progressed and that was not quite as simple and cookie-cutter as it first seemed.
While the characters were a little bit on the extreme side, in the sense that they were all so distinct and colorful, the acting was very good and this didn’t act as a detriment to the interactions between them. Carell plays a fantastic douche-bag, and not the loveable kind as he did with The Office’s Michael Scott. But the film never quite seals the deal that he doesn’t have a good side too. The supporting characters have their clichés, but we get hints of what is underneath those, and while subtle, they add complexity and ground the story in reality. Liam James portrays the awkward teen really well, and you genuinely feel sorry for him at times just because of the look on his face.
In terms of the acting, and performances, for me Sam Rockwell absolutely stole the show. He was hilarious, genuine and wacky, almost like a comedic, good guy, family friendly version of the part he played so well in ‘Seven Psychopaths.’ His spurts of manic, nonsensical dialogue are fantastic, and his interactions with the workers and children at the part are hilarious but also really charming. The dynamic created between he and young Duncan really is fun to watch, and as a viewer I felt strong emotions seeing Duncan come out of his shell as a result.
While Rockwell provides the funniest aspects of the comedy, some of the supporting characters also put in some hilarious turns, which help lighten up the film in the latter half, where some of the materials gets a little heavier. There are some impactful scenes, although not subtle, they do capture some of the dysfunction and family issues that come with separation and the need to be with someone. Duncan’s hatred for Trent transfers into contempt for his mother, for not seeing what he sees, as he doesn’t understand that sometimes it’s more than just love for adults.
The story itself is well done, although pretty basic, but it allows the characters to shine and bring the story along with them. What is really cool about the film is that they don’t attempt to change Duncan. They just show the process of him gaining some confidence and his integration into society, without the point being that he is BAD or WRONG for being himself. I think that is a really important distinction in a film like this, and something that makes it all the more endearing.
A wonderful little coming of age story, ‘The Way, Way Back’ provides an entertaining, funny and often poignant, although rarely subtle look at a boy’s difficulty coming to terms with himself and with his situation. As well as the people and sources of inspiration that one can find by pushing themselves into new situations, and how these people can change your life completely. Not a perfect film, but certainly one of the better feel good films you’ll see this year.