The Way Way Back (2013) Film Review, a movie directed by Nat Faxon, Jim Rash and starring Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph, Liam James, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet, River Alexander, Zoe Levin, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash, and Adam Riegler.
In a summer full of horrific heat waves a refreshing film about water parks and growing up, The Way Way Back, is an outstanding hit. The Way Way Back is the directorial debut of Academy-Award Best Adapted Screenplay winners Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (screenwriters for The Descendants). The Way Way Back follows 14-year-old Duncan’s summer vacation with his mother, Pam, her new boyfriend, Trent, and Trent’s daughter Steph. This one summer forever changes Duncan’s life and charms audiences with a sweet and satisfying film.
The Fox Searchlight distributed film touches on the universal themes of family growing pains, friendships, and fitting in. The opening dialogue of the film involves Pam’s over-bearing boyfriend, Trent (Steven Carell), asking Duncan (Liam James) on a scale of 1 – 10 how he views himself. While Duncan would rather answer in silence Trent rates him a solid three – a kid who is happy being alone, not making friends, and not contributing to life. Clearly, this summer is lined up to be the best one yet for the poor kid. Later scenes with Trent’s daughter, Steph (Zoe Levin) also hints that he does not pay enough attention to his own daughter who constantly sneaks alcohol the entire summer. Duncan’s own absent father sets Duncan as a young boy with no positive male role models.
Despite his introverted ways Duncan’s good heart wins him two very unique friends, his next-door-neighbor Susanna (AnnaSofia Robb) and Water Whizz water park manager Owen (Sam Rockwell). The screen chemistry between the cadre creates enough depth and dynamic sparks that it reignites some faith in the human spirit that often gets silenced by the loud voices of cruel people such as Trent.
Owen embodies the Peter Pan who does not want to grow up. He runs Water Whizz with a free spirited attitude and has his own band of misfit coworkers including love-interest Caitlyn (Maya Rudolph), Roddy (writer Nat Faxon, and cantankerous Lewis (writer Jim Rash). It wasn’t until after I left the screening that it dawned on me both writers play supporting roles in the film. The crew of Water Whizz takes Duncan under their wing by giving him a summer job at the park. There he learns to confront situations head on, laugh at himself, and truly put himself out there.
While the water park acts as Duncan’s safe haven his home life is turbulent. His mother Pam has in Duncan’s eyes become someone else due to Trent’s influence. Pam (Toni Collette) often has her voice silenced by Trent’s ways; Pam is constantly the item on his arm, meeting Trent’s friends, boating on their boats, and clearly unaccustomed to their relaxed and irresponsible lifestyle. As a divorcee Pam has raised Duncan alone and it is referenced she owns her own catering business. That being said, the neighbors of the summer home belittle her career and instead focus on the wine, food, and memories that Pam is clearly isolated from.
Duncan’s home life does have a little relief in the form of Susanna. Though older than Duncan, Susanna can relate to Duncan’s longing for his absent father. She is also the victim of a parental divorce and often references various scientific albeit quirky facts about the shore and its inhabitants. Her ramblings often fill the silence that Duncan’s introverted nature brings, her one-sided conversations often try to cover up the fear and sadness the two are afraid to articulate otherwise. While her personality originally comes off as uninterested and cold, Susanna clearly longs for a connection with someone after being isolated herself.
Despite Duncan’s young age, his bravery and strength as a young boy reaches audiences in a poignant way. After catching Trent having an affair with his summer neighbor Joan, Duncan desperately urges his mother to confront the situation she chooses to deny. Often the quietest voice roars the loudest when being courageous. As Duncan finds his place in the world others around him are forced to evaluate the good and bad in their own lives. As the summer and film draw to a close, life-changing relationships and friendships have been formed. Duncan watches the water park fade away on the horizon as he sits in the back of the station, in the way, way back.
The Way Way Back is a relatable, charming, and loving film that connects audiences with the human spirit and such strong performances – the combination creates my favorite film of the summer.