The Way Way Back is a small-scale inspirational/feel-good film about Duncan (Liam James), a 14 year old boy who has trouble fitting in. He’s going on summer holiday with his mum (Toni Collette), her boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) and his daughter. As they meet up with old friends of Trent’s, we see that they’re not exactly a happy family.
Duncan is extremely awkward and, on the journey to the house where they’ll spend their summer, he is insulted by a wannabe-pep talk on life from Trent. As Duncan grows to hate the company he is keeping on the break, he heads to Water Wizz, a local water park full of kids having fun and friendly staff. Chief amongst them is Owen (Sam Rockwell), a wise-cracking employee of Water Wizz.
Predictably, a friendship blossoms between Duncan and Owen, providing many amusing moments. Rockwell is, by some distance, the best thing about this film. If I’m honest, I was worried about where the film was going until he arrived on screen. Initially, I found a lot of the characters to be extremely irritating and the film was annoying me a little bit. Perhaps this was the intention though, to highlight just why Duncan is so unhappy around these people. Rockwell, thankfully, has several lines that made me laugh out loud, and still make me chuckle now when I think about them. He plays his part perfectly, being incredibly likeable and, quite honestly, his Owen is somebody I wish I was friends with.
Liam James is good as the awkward teenager at the centre of the story, successfully portraying a young man growing up with all the frustrations of having separated parents. Steve Carell is also good as Trent, an easy-to-hate character, almost pantomime-esque in his villainy.
The writing and directing from Nat Faxon and Jim Rash is successful in achieving everything it wants to. There are plenty of sad moments and a few scenes that might just leave you with a lump in your throat. I’d suggest there’s slightly too much exposition early on in the film. It doesn’t take much to realise that we’re supposed to see Duncan as something of a loser, but the film rams this down our throats over and over again.
With some good acting and aesthetically pleasing cinematography, The Way Way Back is a good film. If I’m honest, it isn’t the run-away success I was hoping for. With some irritating characters, extreme foreshadowing and clichéd ‘buddy’ moments, it’s fair to say this is a film with flaws. It does tick most of the boxes of a good feel-good film though, and occasionally is genuinely moving. Despite being enjoyable on first viewing, the only reason I’d revisit The Way Way Back is for the show-stealing performance of Sam Rockwell.