Everyone has, or wants to have, that summer where they build memories that last a lifetime. That summer where your parents ship you off to camp and you have an unexpected great time, or you spend time at the grandparents’ cottage and make new friends that you vow to keep in touch with.
The Way, Way Back is just that movie that allows those memories to flood back. It draws from our own sense of nostalgia and the need we may have felt in our youths to rebel and experience our own sense of freedom, even for just a short time.
Nat Faxen and Jim Rash wrote and directed this film that stars Liam James as 14 year old Duncan, who is spending the summer with his mom Pam (Toni Collette), her boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) and his teenage daughter Steph (Zoe Levin) at Trent’s summer beach house.
Duncan is a painfully awkward teenager with few social skills who spends little time with anyone his own age and is at odds with Trent, who tells him he’s a 3 on the scale of 1 to 10. This provides the basis for their relationship as Duncan values little less than Trent.
At first, we feel for Duncan but soon realize that he doesn’t exactly make it easy for himself. It isn’t until he branches out with the gang at the water park (Sam Rockwell as Owen; Maya Rudolph as Caitlyn; Jim Rash as Lewis) that we see the environment is what influences him.
James shows off the different sides of Duncan exceptionally as he remains the awkward kid around the family, is shy around girls but outgoing around the water park. He plays well the relationship with each other person.
The strength of The Way, Way Back is with the actors and the character development because they don’t go beyond the believable. These are people everybody knows. Allison Janney as quirky neighbour Betty is a highlight as she doesn’t overstay her welcome (for the viewer) and offers wonderful comedy relief in a way only someone as sophisticated as Janney can.
Steve Carell was totally unfunny. As his standard role is the goofy moron, he absolutely pulls off the convincing asshole being Trent.
At the heart of the film is the heart. Nothing is over the top except the water on the water slide. Everyone feels at home, even if they don’t want to be there. Ultimately The Way, Way Back captures what we have to give and that’s what makes it.