Ah, the good ole’ coming of age genre.
“The Way Way Back” follows 14-year-old Duncan (James), a socially awkward teen who is on a summer vacation trip with his mother Pam (Toni Collette) and Pam’s boyfriend Trent (Carell). Duncan doesn’t exactly get along with Trent very well and keeps to himself for much of the start to his summer at a beach house.
The mundane nature of Duncan’s summer comes to a screeching hult, though, when he meets Owen (Rockwell), a man who works at the local water park. Owen is a carefree, fun loving person working with a staff who invites Duncan to get a job at the Water Park as well. Duncan starts working there and it becomes an escape from his less than stellar life at the beach house.
The film doesn’t exactly get off to a roaring start. The general premise is set up nicely, the audience can get that Trent is a jerk and that Duncan isn’t the most confident person and has his own share of issues with his parents getting a divorce. However, after watching Duncan just sulk for a while, it gets a little old. Thankfully, Sam Rockwell shows up and breathes life into the picture.
For the rest of the run time, the story improves and flows nicely. “The Way Way Back” does fall into some of the tropes that have been seen in other coming of age films, and it embraces them well and even subtly pays homage to them.
The movie’s characters are good for the most part, despite some flaws. Watching Duncan grow as a person and actually stand up for himself eventually was good to see, yet, I can’t help but feel that the script was made to show him being a little too socially awkward. There are points where legitimately can’t hold the simplest of conversations, it was a bit grating at times. That being said though, Liam James does play the roll well enough and the character does have some good moments.
Steve Carell as the eventual step-father figure Trent is good in the part. Carell manages to pull off being a complete jerk surprisingly well. The rest of the supporting cast works well enough too. Allison Janney as the wild and crazy neighbor Betty is fairly memorable and her daughter, Duncan’s love interest Susana, played by AnnaSophia Robb, is played well enough. Although her character could have used a bit more depth.
The person who steals the show, though, is Sam Rockwell. Rockwell brings so much charm to the film as well as enough heart to actually make you care about his character and believe his friendship with Duncan.
Overall, “The Way Way Back” works for the most part, it just could have been stronger at some parts. Duncan could have been a bit less awkward, his romance with Susana could have played a bigger role and it isn’t the most original concept. It’s an enjoyable flick though, high 3 out of 5.