The Way, Way Back

Directed By: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash

Starring: Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, AnnaSophia Bobb, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet, and Liam James

2013 marks the summer of coming-of-age comedies at the indie box office.  The proof is in the pudding.  This past June, Joe, Patrick, and Biaggio jammed on some logs in the woods in The Kings of Summer.  This month, Duncan is breaking it down on a cardboard dance floor at Water Wizz in The Way, Way Back.  This coming August, Sutter and Aimee will party hard in Spectacular Now.  In fact, we even had a bit of a preamble with Ellis and Neckbone in Mud earlier this spring.  The interesting thing about these films is that they seemingly cater to adults.  Teens don't really frequent indie cinemas.  That being said, this doesn't mean that adults can't enjoy a film about adolescence.  We've all been there.

Duncan (Liam James) is having a tough time with his new big happy family.  His mom's boyfriend Trent (Steve Carrell) treats him like crap.  This man actually considers Duncan a 3 on a scale of 1 to 10 and tells the boy just that.  Duncan's mother Pam (Toni Collette) is fresh from a divorce and is oblivious to the tension between the two.  She just wants her relationship to work.  All the while, Trent's daughter Steph (Zoe Levin) absolutely despises her 14-year-old "brother" and thinks he's a little pervert.  With all of this nonsense, it's needless to say that Duncan hates his family and feels trapped in his own personal hell.

This summer, the family is going to Trent's beach house Riptide where Trent and Pam can effectively have an adult version of spring break with all of Trent's friends.  These friends include wild divorcee Betty (Allison Janney) and the lively couple Kip and Joan (Rob Corddry and Amanda Peet).  Duncan wants nothing to do with these adults and their drunken shenanigans, though he is curious about Betty's daughter Susannah (AnnaSophia Robb).  He spends most of his days in secret wandering the town.  While at some local restaurant, he meets a gentleman named Owen (Sam Rockwell) who knows how to have fun and lighten up the mood.  Owen's time on the archaic Pac-Man machine at the back of the restaurant definitely says it all.  Duncan eventually gets a job working for Owen at Water Wizz, a nearby amusement park, and finally finds a place where he's happy.

The Way, Way Back is an undeniably fun affair.  Like every great coming-of-age comedy, it's a movie with a whole lot of humor and equally as much heart. The distinguishing thing about this movie is its wealth of comedic talent.  With the likes of Steve Carrell, Allison Janney, Sam Rockwell, and Maya Rudolph, you honestly can't go wrong.  The kids are even hilarious.  There's so much talent on hand that directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash are able to effectively bench the top-billed Steve Carell.  The Little Miss Sunshine star is not funny in this movie.  Instead, he deftly portrays Pam's jerk of a boyfriend Trent and carries the more dramatic scenes along with Toni Collette.  All in all, we have one great summer movie on our hands with The Way, Way Back.

Faxon and Rash craft a tale about a boy and his family life first and a comedy second.  That's why this film works so well.  The laughs are certainly there, but there's some dramatic weight to it all.  Even though this is a comedy-drama, this coming-of-age tale offers humor that is more so comic relief than just pure comedy at first.  After watching Trent emotionally torture poor Duncan for so long and empathizing with this kid's sad situation, we're ready to laugh a little.  Faxon, Rash, and their awesome cast deliver exactly the relief we need.  The Way, Way Back slowly builds to something more though.  Faxon and Rash take what's initially just a drama with some comic relief and turn it into a fun affair fueled by pure hilarity.  With a poignant drama and an uproarious comedy, we’re getting the best of both worlds.

With a movie like this where each and every cast member is at the top of their game, I could go on and on about each one of them.  While I won't mention them all, I would like to talk about a few standouts.  As our main character Duncan, Liam James really shines in The Way, Way Back.  He gives us an introvert to whom we can relate and with whom we can laugh.  As Duncan's chatty surrogate father Owen, Sam Rockwell plays one guy who can keep us all laughing.  Rockwell's fast-talking and fun-loving character is the life of the party at Water Wizz.  He's certainly not the only party animal in the movie though.  Allison Janney's Betty, who's recently off the wagon, is all about the drinks.  While she says more inappropriate things than appropriate ones, she seems to be having a lot of fun on camera and that translates well on the big screen.

While The Way, Way Back is no Little Miss Sunshine in terms of offering artistic value, it is a film that offers just as much entertainment value.  The star-studded cast is firing on all cylinders.  You will laugh until you cry in this one, but you'll also feel Duncan's pains as he grapples with his familial problems.  I absolutely loved this movie.  The Way, Way Back gets a sober rating.  We need more movies like this.