On a scale of 1 to 10, what do you think you are? And if you were told that you were a 3, how would you go about getting closer to double figures?
So begins The Way Way Back and a conversation between step-father Trent (Steve Carrell) and step-son Duncan (a tremendous Liam James). This early exchange is passed off as a rather blunt but nonetheless humorous and light-hearted tete-à-tete between two men who are forced into a station wagon on the road to the beach house for a summer getaway.
However, it soon becomes apparent that the usually affable and well-meaning Carrell is far from it here as Trent is callous and overbearing throughout.
He looks in his rear-view mirror at Duncan who is sat way, way at the back of the car, facing the other direction. This early indication of the pair not seeing eye-to-eye is an obvious one but sets the tone for their relationship. Neither of them want to be in this situation but they are thrown together by the love of a woman – as is so often the way, n’est-ce pas? The ever-impressive Toni Collette plays Pam – mother to Duncan and partner of one year to Trent – caught between love and obligation to her son and the demands of a new relationship.
Gone are the days of the ‘normal family’. Writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (Dean Pelton of Community!) tackled the theme of dysfunctional modern family life in The Descendants and continue it here; as well as including superb more-than-cameo parts for themselves. The Way Way Back is a coming-of-age story, it is a buddy movie and, in some ways, it is a road movie – covering both the literal and figurative sense of ‘the journey’. Their script is perfect. It is poignant, heartfelt and moving. At no point is it clichéd or insincere which can often happen when telling the story of a boy becoming a man. The film follows a formula but in no way is it formulaic.
If, over the course of this film, you do not belly-laugh at least 14 times, then you either have no sense of humour or you are dead inside. Or both. This is due in large part to the performance of Sam Rockwell, who steals the show as Owen – the manager of the Water Wizz amusement park. He is a quick-talking, sarcastic, immature man-child who is universally loved, both by his colleagues and the audience.
His car is a wreck, he arrives late for work and shows a complete disregard for safety procedures. In other words, he is the antithesis of Trent and therefore exactly the kind of role model that Duncan needs. Taken under Owen’s wing and given a menial job at the park, Duncan discovers teamwork, camaraderie and the sense of belonging that he needs. Over the course of the trip he transforms from a withdrawn, awkward and extremely pale 14 year-old boy into a confident and composed young man with a healthy tan and the nickname “Pop ‘n’ Lock” after an inadvertent break dance-off – a successful summer break in anyone’s book, I think.
Much like the feeling you have as a teenager as the summer draws to a close and the new school term looms, I did not want this film to end. I would gladly have watched another hour or more. Over the past few years I have only seen Casino Royale and The Dark Knight more than once at the cinema. I hope to add The Way Way Back to this list as soon as possible. I suggest you do as well.