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.