Cinema Review: The Way Way Back


DIR: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash • WRI: Simon Barrett • PRO: Tom Rice, Kevin J. Walsh  • DOP: John Bailey • ED: Tatiana S. Riegel•  DES: Mark Ricker • CAST:  Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb

We meet 14 year old teenager Duncan (Liam James) en route to what he’s sure is going to be the worst summer holiday of his life. His mum Pam (Toni Collette) has been dating Trent (Steve Carell) for a while now, and that means a trip to his holiday cabin in a tourist-filled Cape Cod seaside town – whether Duncan likes it or not.

Steve’s bitchy teen daughter Steph (Zoe Levin) won’t even give him the time of day, and as soon as they arrive the “fun” begins, with neighbour Betty (Allison Janney) margarita in hand and already three sheets to the wind. Then Trent’s boating buddy Skip (Rob Corddry) and his flirtatious wife Joan (Amanda Peet) turn up, and the adults are ready to party – never mind what the kids are doing.

Duncan, his shoulders getting even more hunched by the minute, barely notices Betty’s seemingly-normal daughter Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb), and Trent’s put-downs and rules make him feel even less a part of the “family” Trent insists they’re going to be. And how come his mum is smoking pot with Trent and his friends? That’s not like her at all.

Salvation seems to come at the Water Wizz water park, where slobby owner Owen (Sam Rockwell) can’t believe this shy kid falls for all his witty bullshit patter, and offers him a job and a sarcastic but friendly face. As the days pass Duncan starts to lose his shyness among the high jinks with his fellow employees, though back at his summer “home” the tension grows, and he finds out that Trent has a summer secret.

He and Susanna start to talk a little more – they’re both kids of divorced parents, and both think this summer sucks – and while there might be some tears, it’s not going to end up quite as bad as they think.

We’re in the perpetual awkwardness of a teenage coming-of-age story here, and writer/directors Faxon and Rash (who won an Oscar for The Descendants and play small roles as water Wizz staff) make it seem timeless. When Owen gives Duncan the tour of the water park he says the owner wanted it to stay in 1983, and though we glimpse an iphone or two, other references make this story seem as if it’s taking place at any time from the 1950s to today.

James – a perpetual scowl on his unhappy face – epitomizes an unhappy teen, and the fine ensemble cast of actors (Rockwell and Janney especially) makes the best use of the excellent writing, which does so much by, for once, saying so little.

None of the expected, obvious moments come, yet we still get strong emotion and comedy, though more important than that it doesn’t offer us any easy answers about families, relationships or friends – just like it is when you’re a teenager, and an adult too.

This is that rarest of things these days – an original script with charm and real affection, but also an edge; the awkward silences between the adults at dinner says volumes without a word – and even the fab Water Wizz is a real place; look it up online!

Overall, this is a film that’s worth making the effort to see. It’s touted as akin to Little Miss Sunshine and Juno – it’s got fewer big laughs than that – but nonetheless it’s quite possible this will be floating around come Oscar time…

James Bartlett

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details) 

103 mins
The Way, Way Back is released on 28th August 2013

The Way, Way Back – Official Website


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