When the dust has settled from the debauchery and mayhem that has characterized most of this summer’s lack-lustre selection of blockbuster hits (or not, looking at you Lone Ranger), one may seek a calmer, lighter-hearted affair, one that encapsulates youth and coming of age in a means not reliant on Transformers. Look no further than the delightfully whimsical The Way, Way Back.
“The way, way back” itself refers to where we find the film’s central character, Duncan (Liam James), in both the opening and the closing sequences of the movie – the rear-facing seat in a wood panelled 1970 Buick sedan. In the opening scene he is asked by his newly acquainted step-father Trent (Steve Carell) how he would rate himself out of ten. He replies after some deliberation “a six”, only for Trent to say “a six? I’d put you down as a three.”
It is this exchange that sets in motion the progression of the rest of the film. The family, including Duncan’s mother Pam (Toni Collette) and step-sister Steph (Zoe Levin), arrive shortly thereafter at Trent’s New England beach house. The rest of the summer looks bleak for Duncan when Trent and Pam fall into a cycle of ‘middle-age spring break,’ drinking Bloody Mary’s for breakfast and scurrying off into the dunes for mischievous marijuana tokes. Duncan, left to his own devices, finds a 1980s ‘trapped-in-time’ water park where he becomes friends with its immature manager Owen (Sam Rockwell). Owen provides Duncan with the compassionate role-model and friend which he otherwise lacks and he grows in confidence over the summer and through the film’s heart-felt climax.
One of the secrets to The Way, Way Back‘s ability to stand above other coming-of-age comedies is in its superb casting. Rockwell’s Owen is the linchpin of the film and he delivers a wonderful performance. Carell’s casting as Trent is also brilliant as, against type, he plays somewhat of a dick, rather self-centred and arrogant. He is the epitome of the worst kind of step-father; he is strict with his partner’s children but lets his own run wild. In fact, the whole cast is exemplary in raising this comedy beyond the constraints of genre comfort.
This is not a new feat for the film’s writer/director/actor duo, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who also collaborated on the writing of the Oscar-winning The Descendants in 2011. The Way, Way Back has a similar feel to it, following some of the tropes of the genre but executing them to such a fine degree that it comes out being one of the most enjoyable films of the summer and one of the ‘must sees’ of the year so far.
The Way, Way Back is released on the 28 August.