Film Review: The Way Way Back

14-year-old Duncan (Liam James) goes on a summer holiday to Cape Cod with his mother (Toni Collette), overbearing step father (Steve Carell) and bitchy step sister. Not fitting in and feeling really rather miserable about everything, Duncan gets a job at a local waterpark where here meets Owen (Sam Rockwell), a senior worker at the park, whom he looks up to. Owen takes Duncan under his wing and helps him have the most important summer of his life.

Last year, Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower was somewhat of a surprise hit and made it cool to be unpopular. It was filled with misfit teenagers who, over the course of the film, made some of the important steps from being a kid towards adulthood. The Way Way Back follows a similar ‘coming-of-age’ formula and looks set to repeat the success of Perks, largely thanks to some excellent performances from its (some familiar, some not so familiar) cast.

If you’re a fan of so-called coming-of-age films, then there’s a lot to like in The Way Way Back. All the hallmarks are there, which does give the film an air of predictability about it and it does suffer from slight over-sentimentality at times, although both these can be overlooked without too much effort. It’ll be easy for many to find something to relate to within the film, whether it be Duncan’s difficulty finding his own identity, summer romances, difficult step parents, or just having one of those summers you’ll never forget. This allows the film to be accessible to practically anyone.

However, it’s the performances that really elevate the film. Liam James is perfectly awkward as Duncan, echoing Logan Lerman’s performance in Perks. You can see him grow throughout the film, starting off as a shy, introverted child before slowly growing into a confident young man. Steve Carrell is also excellent as the simply infuriating Trent, Duncan’s step father, who has little to no time for his stepson, whilst Allison Janney is hilarious as their flirty, borderline alcoholic neighbour. It’s Sam Rockwell, though, who really steals the show as the carefree Owen. His dialogue is consistently sharp and quick-witted, with his delivery and timing nothing short of perfect. It’s not overly clear why Owen decides to befriend Duncan in particular, but their relationship works and is the backbone of the film.

The Way Way Back is most definitely a case where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. On paper it’s pretty formulaic but played out on screen it’s heart warming and genuine. I wouldn’t be surprised if this sneaks onto some ‘best of’ lists come the end of the year.

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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35 thoughts on “Film Review: The Way Way Back

  1. CMrok93 says:

    It’s as conventional as you can get, yet, you feel so much love and warmth from these characters, that you don’t even care. Good review.

  2. I got a real kick out of this. The perfect summer movie. Top work Chris.

  3. One of my favourites of the year! Great post!

  4. Dan Heaton says:

    I totally agree and see the connections with Perks. The difference is that the Way Way Back is a bit sweeter and likes the same angst. Duncan really just needs a few friends to figure out who he is, and the community at the water park is so warm and likable. I recognize the formula, but I still loved this movie.

    • Yeah it is a pretty obvious formula and you know pretty much where it’s going at all times, but it still works anyway. Duncan isn’t as deep a characters as Lerman’s in Perks but it’s still really enjoyable to see him come out of his shell with his friends at the waterpark.

  5. ruth says:

    Nice review Chris. I definitely will be renting this one, looks like a hoot! Sam Rockwell is quite the scene stealer in many films so no doubt he’s done it here, too.

  6. 70srichard says:

    Best film of the summer and likely to be an end of year favorite. I like the sentimentality and the performances.

  7. Okay! If you like it, I will, too. Nice review.

  8. I’ve heard loads of good things about this film. I started taking an interest in Jim Rash when I got into Community a few years back and have since then kept and eye on his stuff. Great review – I’ll definitely be checking this one out.

  9. table9mutant says:

    Great review. Damn – I’ve missed out on this one. 😦 I LOVE Perks so sounds like I’d like this. Plus you liked it so I’m sure I will too!

  10. Thank you 🙂 It’s definitely worth a watch, I recommend it, especially if you like Perks. It’s a little more straightforward than Perks but the performances are brilliant.

  11. Zoë says:

    Hmmm, hearing good things. Should check it out. Enjoyed the review!

  12. le0pard13 says:

    I’m scheduling this one for sure. Thanks, Chris.

  13. Mark Hobin says:

    Definitely one of my favorite films of the year. Coming of age stories can be formulaic. But here it’s not about the destination, it’s the journey. And the way the story unfolds was really captivating.

  14. Mark Walker says:

    Fine review Chris. I’ve got my on this one, although I wasn’t really a fan of Perks of Being a Wallflower. I thought that was highly overrated.

  15. Popcorn Nights says:

    Nice review Chris. I haven’t seen this but will get around to it at some point, I like the sound of it. Haven’t seen Perks either, but will do.

  16. Alex Withrow says:

    Just watched this one the other day and I pretty much loved it. Had no idea it would be so genuine and smart. You’re right: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Well said.

  17. Nice review! I wouldn’t be surprised to see this on year end lists either. Btw, love the pigeon motif on this site. = )

  18. Nostra says:

    Really enjoyed this one and I understand the comparison with Perks, although I thought that movie was slightly better. It was such a funny movie with heartfelt moments as well. Definitely one of the better movies of the year.

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