"Duncan! On a scale of 1 to 10, what do you think you are?"
It's been a great year for people like me who love coming-of-age films. So far I haven't been disappointed. Mud is my favorite film of the year, The Kings of Summer was a lot of fun, and The Way Way Back was charming. I loved this film despite it pretty much following the same formula most of these coming-of-age films do. The thing that stood out for me here were the performances and the emotion involving script written by Academy Award winning screenwriters Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (The Descendants). I was engaged with the story from the very opening scene and cared deeply for these characters. There were a perfect mix of funny and entertaining moments with some emotional drama. Liam James delivers a strong lead performance although at times he overdoes the physical aspect a bit by shrugging his shoulders a little too much (especially during the first half of the film until he begins building his confidence). It felt like he was trying too hard to point out that he was shy and lost, but I still sympathized with his character. The true stars of this film however are the secondary characters. Sam Rockwell gives yet another spectacular performance and he owns this movie. It was a pleasure to see his character on screen and he had great chemistry with Liam as he helped the kid grow and became a sort of a father figure to him. Steve Carell hits all the right notes in this film as the douche bag without overselling the performance. No matter how much you may love him as an actor, he genuinely is despiteful in this movie. Allison Janney is also hilarious in this movie. For a coming of age film I thought the adult actors were much better than the kids (at least their characters were better developed), and the location truly felt like a Spring Break for adults. Faxon and Rash not only wrote the script, they also played secondary characters (they were also really funny), and this was their first film as directors. I really liked this movie and thought it was even better than Payne's The Descendants which they helped write. The Way Way Back gets my respects and I definitely recommend this movie.
Fourteen year old Duncan (Liam James) is a shy and lonely kid who is being forced by his mom, Pam (Toni Collette) to travel with her to her boyfriend's beach house for the summer. She has been dating Trent (Steve Carrell) for over a year now and they decide to travel together along with his daughter, Steph (Zoe Levin). Once they arrive to their destiny they are welcomed by Trent's single sister, Betty (Allison Janney) and her two kids: Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb) and Peter (River Alexander). Duncan has a difficult time talking to anyone and would have preferred going to his father's house in California (especially since Trent treats him so badly). At this unexpected place he begins to find himself when he accepts a summer job at a water park managed by the goofy Owen (Sam Rockwell). Owen takes a liking for the shy kid and teaches him a few life lessons. He also befriends the rest of the employees of the park including Caitlin (Maya Rudolph), Roddy (Nat Faxon), and Lewis (Jim Rash). He tries to spend as much time as he can in the water park, since back home the only person he can actually talk to is Susanna with whom a nice friendship slowly begins to form. Rob Corddry and Amanda Peet also star in this film as Trent's friends with whom they spend most of the time.
The Way Way Back has some similarities to Adventureland and although that film might be a little better I still think The Way Way Back holds its own mainly because of how great Sam Rockwell is here. It was easy for me to identify with Duncan and the film builds on that nostalgic sentiment of adolescence at times. Some elements may seem familiar or taken from other movies, but they still work in a unique way here. I really wouldn't mind watching this film again because it was a pleasant experience. It's like a summer destiny I would like to visit again the following summer. I loved how they managed to turn so many familiar elements from the genre and make them feel fresh and new. There are moments where you will find yourself laughing hard and then the next minute you will feel heart broken. I also loved the soundtrack for this film. The Way Way Back is a very enjoyable film, especially if coming-of-age films are you sort of thing.