The Way, Way Back Director(s): Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Screenwriter(s): Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Cast: Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph, Rob Corddry Fox Searchlight Pictures
Rated R | 103 Minutes
Release Date: July 19, 2013
Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, Academy Award winners for their screenplay of Alexander Payne’s The Descendants, have written, produced, and directed a delightful coming-of-age film with The Way, Way Back.
The film stars Liam James as Duncan, a 14-year-old introvert who goes on summer vacation with his mother Pam (Toni Collette), her new boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell), and his daughter Steph (Zoe Levin).
When we first meet Duncan, he’s riding in the “way back” of a vintage station wagon driven by Trent, who is sizing him up in the rearview mirror. Trent asks Duncan how he rates himself on a scale of one to ten. When Duncan answers six, Trent tells him he’s a three. He expects Duncan to use his time at the beach house this summer to “get that score up.” What a jerk.
Upon arriving at Trent’s beach house, Liam is introduced to the neighbors: Betty (Allison Janney) and her teenage daughter Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb) who, unlike the hordes of vapid, self-obsessed girls at the beach, is friendly towards the exceedingly awkward Liam. One day Liam makes another unexpected friend in Owen (Sam Rockwell), gregarious manager of the nearby Water Wizz water park.
I have to give the filmmakers credit here for not making Rockwell’s instantly likable character an idealized caricature. Rash and Faxon understand that we are seeing slightly exaggerated versions of Owen and Trent through Duncan’s eyes. Owen is a little lost in life, an irresponsible slacker who is ashamed of his less than fulfilling life – but to Duncan he’s a role model, a template for how Duncan wants to be; easygoing and unimpaired, the life of the party.
Before long Duncan is working at Water Wizz under the tutelage of Owen and his staff: Caitlyn (Maya Rudolph), Roddy (Faxon), and Lewis (Rash). Duncan gets a tan, he learns how to talk to people (including Susanna) and – in-between arranging deck chairs and supervising the water slide – he opens up to the world around him and begins to find himself.
Meanwhile, Pam is growing tired of constant dinner parties with Trent’s annoying friends Kip (Rob Corddry) and Joan (Amanda Peet) and is coming to the realization that Trent isn’t the ideal man she thought he was. As Duncan continues to discover who he wants to be, Pam has to re-examine what she wants, and what’s best for her family.
From Stand By Me, The Breakfast Club, and Say Anything to more recent films like An Education, Adventureland, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, there’s no shortage of movies about adolescents facing the daunting challenges of growing up head-on. It’s hard to make a coming-of-age story that’s fresh and meaningful, but Rash and Faxon deliver a film that feels fresh and meaningful, specific-but-universal, with an incredible cast and a clever script.
The Way, Way Back is a witty, heartwarming, and hopeful movie that soars on emotional authenticity. Rockwell turns in an endearing performance while Carell goes against type as the conceited asshole who projects his own inadequacies onto those around him. Funny, sweet, and completely charming, The Way, Way Back is this summer’s Little Miss Sunshine, a sweet, sentimental film that fills your heart with optimism and floods the brain with memories of summers spent in adolescence when everything felt vibrant and new and endlessly exciting.