Synopsis: Shy 14-year-old Duncan goes on summer vacation with his mother, her overbearing boyfriend, and her boyfriend’s daughter. Having a rough time fitting in, Duncan finds an unexpected friend in Owen, manager of the Water Wizz water park.
The Way Way Back is marketed as being from the studio that released Juno and Little Miss Sunshine, and it is in the company of these films that it sits most comfortably.
Sweet without being saccharine, funny without being glib, within the script from directors Nate Faxon and Jim Rash (both of whom also have hilarious supporting roles) beats the heart of a film that understands what it is to be a 14 year old boy in a world that you think doesn’t understand you. Equally though it understands the limits of a 14 year old boys ability to understand the complex, and often counter intuitive decisions that come with being an adult.
Focusing on the various relationships that Duncan (Liam James of The Killing) endures over the course of a summer vacation with his mom (Toni Collette), her passive-aggressive boyfriend (Steve Carrell in a delightful diversion from his normal lovable typecast) and their nutty beach house neighbour Betty (Alison Janney), he finally rediscovers his self esteem in the form of hyper-confident slacker Owen (Sam Rockwell) an unlikely mentor at the local water park.
While the experienced cast of Janney, Rockwell, Carrell and Collette provide the lions share of the laughs and dramas, it is the quietly melancholic central performance of James that provides the emotional core that anchors the whole piece. While he pouts and frowns his way through 70% of his screen time, Duncan never feels like a moody teenage cliche too far.Credit as much to the balanced writing from Faxon and Rash, both stalwarts of famed LA improv troupe The Groundlings.
Conclusion: Beautifully balanced with just the right amount of light to offset it’s darker moments, Faxon and Rash are filmmakers with bright futures.
Cast: Liam James, Steve Carrell, Sam Rockwell, Allison Janney, Toni Collette, Jim Rash, Nate Faxon, AnnaSophia Robb, Amanda Peet, Rob Cordry, Maya Rudolph