The Way Way Back is a 2013 drama/coming of age film starring Steve Carell, Allison Janney, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph and featuring Liam James as the main focus of the film, Duncan. The film was written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash and directed by the duo in their directorial debut.
The film follows 14-year-old Duncan, his mom, sister and mother’s boyfriend, Trent, as they go on vacation to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Right away we see Steve Carell, who plays the boyfriend, bully Duncan in the car asking what rating from 1-10 he would give himself. When Duncan gives himself a 6, Trent replies with he’s probably only a 3. This sets up the remainder of the film as Trent continually berates, bullies and acts like a jerk towards both Duncan and at times his mom.
It would be easy to say Duncan is a stereotypical awkward teenager, especially at the beginning where it is extreme, eventually leading Duncan to venture out on a bicycle with streamers on the handlebars where he finds the local water park, Water Wizz.
There, he is befriended by the general manager of the park, eventually landing a job which he doesn’t tell his mom about. Throughout the middle of the film we see Duncan become more comfortable with others and even earning a nickname for himself, Pop’n’lock after he is tasked to break up a breakdancing group and ends up dancing himself.
Trent’s actions come back to bite him towards the end of the film as Duncan lashes out, revealing some secrets. It ends with the family going back home after the summer, with Duncan going to the water park to say goodbye where his family is astonished to see all of the close friends he has made.
The film completely caught me off guard with its realistic portrayals from Carell, James and Rockwell. It was very easy to hate Trent and feel sorry for Duncan. When Duncan started to gain self-confidence, I cheered every new experience he encountered and genuinely smiled the first time he smiled at the waterpark.
I would definitely recommend the film for anybody looking for a feel-good family coming-of-age story. Some of the themes may not sit well with younger viewers, including the “swinger” lifestyle portrayed as a backdrop to the film’s other main location. Overall, a highly enjoyable film and one I would definitely recommend.