UK Release Date: 28th August 2013
Runtime: 103 minutes
Director: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Writer: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Starring: Liam James, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph, AnnaSophia Robb, Allison Janney
Synopsis: An introverted teen uses one summer vacation to escape from his terrible stepdad and discover a lot about himself.
It’s a well-worn formula – the one summer where everything changes forever. And yet, somehow, The Way Way Back manages to both embrace that formula and feel completely fresh at the same time. Penned by The Descendants scribes Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (now best known as the Dean in Community), this is a coming of age comedy with bite.
Duncan (Liam James) is taken away for summer vacation by his mother (Toni Collette) and her arsehole new boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell). When he one day discovers a nearby water park and meets cocky manchild Owen (Sam Rockwell), he finds a purpose and the confidence to talk to girl next door Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb).
The first thing to say about The Way Way Back is that it’s very funny indeed. Faxon and Rash have crafted a witty, well-observed script that really drills down into familial dysfunction in a similar vein to The Descendants. Allison Janney gets many of the best moments in her great role as a permanently inebriated neighbour of Trent – played by Steve Carrell showing some surprising credentials as a hateful douchebag.
Sam Rockwell though is the true star of the film. His gleeful performance as the childish, arrogant water park manager Owen is an absolute delight. After a number of narrative lulls, Rockwell brings The Way Way Back to life every time he appears on screen. One scene in which he recites Bonnie Tyler’s Holding Out for a Hero to a crowd of kids is a moment of sheer, deadpan genius that’s as funny as any moment in any comedy this year.
The young cast fare less well, with lead Liam James turning the awkward up a little too high. It is the scenes featuring him and generic girl-next-door AnnaSophia Robb that are the focus of The Way Way Back’s more ponderous, near-stationary plot moments. The film is always at its best when its at the water park with Rockwell or when Carell turns on the evil.
It’s a really remarkable achievement to produce a coming of age tale in 2013 that still manages to feel as fresh as the film’s John Hughes was making in the 80s. Rash and Faxon are a great pairing and, after The Descendants, The Way Way Back makes them two for two on thoughtful, hilarious familial comedies.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.