Starring Steve Carrell, Toni Collette and Liam James, The Way Way Back gives us Duncan (Liam James) an unhappy teenager living in a familial nightmare with his mother Pam (Toni Collette), her boyfriend Trent (Steve Carrell) and Trent’s daughter Steph. This slightly dysfunctional family is thrown into a new setting – a beach town in Cape Cod, for the summer. ‘Like spring break for grown ups’ as Susanna, Duncan’s neighbour puts it.
An amazing comedy-drama, The Way Way Back paints us a perfect image of life as an awkward teenager. At the beginning, Duncan can barely express himself, finds it hard to talk to girls, and is constantly emotionally abused by Trent. The film reflects Duncan’s shyness throughout several scenes, such as his first conversation with Susanna, and the waterpark dance competition. These scenes pile on the cringe factor – but it doesn’t feel like too much, as it reflects the entirety of Duncan’s character at that point. Sam Rockwell plays Owen, the manager of Water Wizz, a waterpark that Duncan happens upon, and subsequently starts working at behind his mother’s back. As usual, Rockwell shines in his performance, playing the comic oracle that we all love to love. But more than that, his character’s development throughout the film has a deceptive impact on us as an audience – I don’t want to say more, just because I found his character arc to be great and unexpected. The also hilarious Steve Carrell has to be praised here for his part as Trent – Pam’s boyfriend, and chief tormenter of Duncan. If for no other reason, Carrell has to be commended for taking on a role that is probably a little out of his comfort zone – instead of playing the bumbling, hilarious hero, he plays an emotionally abusive villain (there’s no other word for it, trust me) – And might I add that he takes to this new role very well.
I can’t believe it took me so long to watch this absolute gem of a film. It’s just a fantastic coming-of-age drama with amazing comedy elements woven in – about a kid who’s just trying to find meaning, and his own place in this crazy world. It’s romantic, depressing and uplifting all at the same time, and it even has an appearance by Jim Rash (who co-wrote and directed this film) as one of the waterpark’s lonely employees. Find a way to see this film, it’s complete gold. And if you’re not a fan of emotional drama’s – that’s alright, you can just spend an hour or so thinking about how cool it would be if Sam Rockwell was your boss too. Yeah, that got to me a bit.