I first saw The Way, Way Back way back in early May. I loved it then. And I think I love it even more now (considering the array of films I’ve seen since). It’s a good, solid coming-of-age indie that has the mainstream appeal of a Little Miss Sunshine or The Descendants. As it happens, The Way, Way Back is made by the same people who brought you those two gems. It’s sweet, funny, poignant, sappy, sad and hopeful – with an excellent cast to boot.
Liam James plays Duncan, a 14-year-old introvert who has to spend the summer at the Cape with his mother Pam (Toni Collette), her passive-aggressive boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) and Trent’s self-obsessed teenage daughter. Duncan is pretty much miserable – until a chance encounter with Owen (Sam Rockwell), the laid-back manager of a local amusement park called Water Wizz. Owen takes Duncan under his wing and helps bring the boy out of his shell. Their relationship is most definitely the heart and soul of this movie. (random side-note: Why isn’t Rockwell a bigger star? He rocks every role – and this one is no exception).
The Way, Way Back also features a solid supporting cast that includes Allison Janney as the hysterical boozy neighbor, Betty; River Alexander as Betty’s son with a scene-stealing lazy eye; Amanda Peet and Rob Corddry as Trent’s long-time drinking, sailing and BBQ buddies; AnnaSophia Robb as the girl next door that Duncan is crushing on; and an underutilized Maya Rudolph as a park worker with a romantic interest in her boss Owen, should he ever get serious and grow up.
The movie feels like a bit of a throwback. It opens with Duncan sitting in the way, way back of a station wagon – facing out. Remember that? It was a road-trip right of passage before SUVs took over as the family vehicle of choice. I half-expected an 8-track cassette to be playing. But alas, the kids all had their earbuds, so the movie must be intended to play as present day. Regardless, the setting and the themes are timeless and relatable. And the movie is a sweet summer treat for older kids and adults. It’s rated PG-13 for the occasional mature themes and language.
For my money, it’s one of the best movies of the year, and certainly a great alternative to the big-bang-boom blockbuster-wannabes.