For a Change of Pace Choose “The Way, Way Back” (Film Review)



With a lot of heart and creative storytelling The Way, Way Back has made its way into movie theaters giving summer a break from action attraction films.  The nicely acted, directed and produced coming of age film gets high marks for compassion, laughter and regret.  If you are tired of the shooting, smashing, crushing, pulverizing, attacking, dismemberment and aggressive films that have crowded box-offices this summer, take in this charming indie for a nice change of pace.

Duncan (Liam James) a 14-year-old nerdish kid who lives with his divorced mother Pam (Toni Collette) gets forced into taking a vacation with her new boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) to his summer cottage on the beach.  Not his choice of vacation, his mother wants Duncan to bond with Trent so she can foster her intentions of make them a family unit.  He tolerates the ride to the shore even though Trent shows his domineering side and often embarrasses the boy.

Liam James as Duncan in The Way, Way Back

Liam James as Duncan in The Way, Way Back

Along for the trip is Trent’s teenage daughter Steph who’s familiar with the summer destination and already has a click of friends at the beach.  Much younger than her, Duncan can’t really get close to Steph so he finds himself dismayed and bored.  Trent keeps hounding the boy trying to push him to enjoy the fun offered by the vacation surroundings, but in most cases his intentions are more digs than friendly persuasion.  One day Duncan rides Seph’s bicycle to a local water park called Water Wizz where he meets and makes friends with Owen (Sam Rockwell) the manager of the park.  When he offers Duncan a job it opens up a doorway out of his sub social world.

Levin as Steph, Carell as Trent, Collette as Pam, Rockwell as Owen and James as Duncan

Levin as Steph, Carell as Trent, Collette as Pam, Rockwell as Owen and James as Duncan

The film vacillates from intimidating to comical as Duncan tries to work himself out of the mundane ‘family’ situation to the new found paradise that’s opening a world he had not expected. Directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash provide a nice pace of both sides of the story giving their audience a bird’s eye view of Trent’s motivation and Pam’s concerns about Duncan.  But it’s Duncan’s fight to free him from the adults exerting the pressure to adjust to changes in his life that binds the story.

Working with high profile talent Faxon and Rash keep their actors on a tight string making sure each scene works so the audience can be set up for the change in Duncan. Stepping away from playing the central comedic role, Steve Carell gives a surprising performance as an insufferable cad that’s actually almost Oscar worthy.  Trying to control Duncan with a heavy hand and not being able to handle criticism in return his Trent becomes the perfect ogre to offset Sam Rockwell’s much needed friendship image. His character gets so dastardly that even Pam’s clouded love for him starts to dissipate.

Sam Rockwell as Owen and Jim Rash as Lewis

Sam Rockwell as Owen and Jim Rash as Lewis

The whole cast gives stellar performances with stand outs being Allison Janney as the nosey next door neighbor who provides a lot of the adult humor.  Her Betty has all the answers, gets the party going and stirs relationships whether they need it or not.  Sam Rockwell gives an excellent performance as Owen the leader of a team of employees that turns Duncan into a teen with a new outlook on life.  His mates Maya Rudolph as Caitlin, Nate Faxon as Roddy and Jim Rash as Lewis are the characters that add a lot of laughter to the film and do it well.

The Way, Way Back has been rated PG-13 by the MPAA for thematic elements, language, some sexual content and brief drug material. Be cautious when deciding to allow immature children see the film as it does have some scenes that may be inappropriate.

FINAL ANALYSIS: A nice coming of age flick in an action crowded summer. (B+) 

Additional Film Information:
Cast: Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph and Liam James, Amanda Peet and Rob Corddry
Directed by: Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
Genre: Comedy, Poignant coming of age story
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, language, some sexual content and brief drug material    
Running Time: 1 hr 43 min
Opening Date: July 19, 2013
Distributed by: Fox Searchlight

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