If you’ve seen a preview for The Way, Way Back, you think you get the gist of the movie. It appears to be a coming of age story about a seemingly awkward boy, with a major lineup of well-known actors. There’s no way this can disappoint. And it doesn’t, but there’s much more to it.
The movie opens with Trent (Steve Carell) driving an old-school station wagon with his daughter Steph (Zoe Levin) and girlfriend, Pam (Toni Collette) asleep and Pam’s teenage son, Duncan (Liam James) packed in with the luggage in the way, way back of the car (get it?!) The pseudo-clan is heading to Trent’s beach house for the summer, something that Duncan is obviously less than enthused about.
The conversation seems casual – Trent tells Duncan that this summer would be a good opportunity for him to socialize and make new friends – but the innocence of this “pep talk” turns nasty.
Trent asks, “Duncan, on a scale of 1-10, what do you think you are?”
“A six,” Duncan uncomfortably responds.
Watching this you can’t help but think a six seems sad, but what’s even sadder is Trent’s response.
“I think you’re a three.”
Things don’t get much better when the group arrives at Trent’s beach house, but it certainly gets entertaining. For all of the serious and uncomfortable moments between Trent and Duncan throughout the movie, there are scenes that make you laugh until you cry.
We meet Trent’s neighbor, Betty (Allison Janney) who has no filter or awareness for personal space. Her son’s lazy eye is the butt of several of her jokes (you almost feel bad for laughing, but you can’t help it) and her daughter Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb) keeps her distance from her.
Trent’s two closest friends Kip (Rob Corddry) and Joan (Amanda Peet) don’t add much in the way of comedy, but they serve a specific purpose for the plot.
While a good portion of the film is set at Trent’s beach house, the best parts of the movie take place at Water Wizz – a real-life establishment I know all too well. I grew up on Cape Cod and Water Wizz was the closest thing to a legit water park we had. I much prefer the ocean to this cesspool, but seeing the all too familiar scene of Water Wizz brought me back to my youth and awkward teen years. Even though Water Wizz is nothing close to impressive in reality, it’s the perfect stage for Duncan’s character development. It’s the first place he makes real friends and looks happy.
Owen (Sam Rockwell), the boy stuck in a man’s body, takes Duncan under his wing and gives him a job for the summer at the water park. Owen is by far my favorite character in this story and the first person that speaks to Duncan like he’s an adult, not a five-year-old that needs a babysitter. Owen’s humor is initially over Duncan’s head, but that changes as he teaches Duncan to not take everything so seriously. Your youth is about having fun, right?
During the summer, you see Duncan develop into a confident individual with the help of Owen and his Water Wizz coworkers – Caitlin (Maya Rudolph), Roddy (Nat Faxon) and Lewis (Jim Rash). Don’t get me wrong – they all give him shit and put him in uncomfortable situations, but it’s never at Duncan’s expense. If anything, it’s to help him break out of his shell and realize there are some well-intentioned people in this world.
So what can we learn from The Way, Way Back? For starters, adults don’t have it all figured out. We see that in Trent and Pam’s relationship, as well as Owen’s career outlook. The film also highlights an important theme – sometimes we ignore the obvious because we’re afraid of the alternative. Settling should never be someone’s option. But most importantly, the film shows you why you should never let someone make you feel inferior.
My take? Maybe Trent would give this movie a three, but I’d say it’s a solid nine or ten. It was well worth a trip to the theater so I don’t want to give away everything, but just for shits and giggles, here is a snippet of some of The Way, Way Back’s hilarity. Oh, and a fun fact for you: Jim Rash and Nat Faxon not only played awesome supporting characters in the film, they wrote and directed it too. Kudos to those two for a job well done.