The Way, Way Back Movie Review
An especially strong script gives actors plenty to chew on in this comedy-drama, in which writer-directors Faxon and Rash (The Descendants) take an observant look at the awkward connections we make with each other. Using sparky humour and emotion, the filmmakers and cast create vivid characters we can't help but identify with, even when they do all the wrong things.
At the centre, Duncan (James) is a 14-year-old who dreads spending the summer at a beach house owned by Trent (Carrel), the cruelly critical new boyfriend of his mother Pam (Collette). When they arrive, they meet gossipy neighbour Betty (Janney), who has a whole season of neighbourhood parties planned. And her daughter Susanna (Robb) looks just about as miserable as Duncan does. As he tries to escape, Duncan finds a local water park run by colourful misfit Owen (Rockwell), who takes Duncan under his wing and offers him a summer job. And being on his own gives him the badly needed self-confidence to talk to his mother honestly, take on Trent and maybe even ask Susanna out on a date.
Even though this is essentially a standard coming-of-age movie, the script never falls into the usual cliches. For example, when Duncan's first kiss comes along, it plays out in an unexpected, realistic way. This is a generous, honest comedy packed with terrific characters and resonant situations. Supported by the all-star cast, James delivers an impressive performance as a sullen teen struggling to face the world around him , growing up while remaining awkward and likeable. Meanwhile, Stockwell keeps us laughing with a lively party-boy turn that's underscored with sympathy. Collette beautifully layers the repressive, conflicted Pam. Carell goes nicely against type as the cruelly passive-aggressive Trent. And Janney steals the show with the most hilarious lines.
All of these characters are forced to explore the central theme: that a lack of respect cripples us, while even a glimmer of it can make us blossom. Watching each of these people face their own inner demons is thoroughly engaging, mainly because Faxon and Rash play every scene for honesty rather than melodrama. So we laugh at the comical characters and situations, but we also get moments of warm insight. And the most refreshing thing about the film is the way the adults stay in the background, messing everything up while the teens deal with their issues like real kids would.