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The Way Way Back (2013)

Josh Reviews The Way Way Back

After a summer of moderately disappointing blockbusters, my favorite film of the season so far is a delightful little gem of a flick, The Way Way Back!

I love a good coming of age movie, and in particular I am a sucker for films that focus on the specific sub-culture of kids taking summer-season jobs.  I have worked all my life at a wonderful summer camp, and I think there’s a special romance to the live-your-whole-life-in-the-span-of-eight-weeks experience that everyone who, while a teenager, held one of those summer jobs can understand.  I loved the film Adventureland (click here for my review) for the way it captured that magical way in which kids can grow up over the course of a summer, and The Way Way Back captures that same sort of magic.

Duncan (Liam James) is a quiet boy whose mother, Pam (Toni Collette) is divorced.  When we first glimpse Duncan, we see him relegated to the “way way back,” the backwards-facing seat of Pam’s boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell)’s station wagon.  Duncan and Pam will be spending the summer at Trent’s beach house, along with Trent’s daughter Steph (Zoe Levin).  Since Steph wants nothing to do with him, Duncan is trapped with his mom and Trent and all of Trent’s friends, including the talky, boozy Betty (Allison Janney); Kip (Rob Corddry) and his flirtatious wife Joan (Amanda Peet).  Eventually Duncan finds solace in a part-time job at a local, small-time water park, and a friend and almost-father-figure in the park’s amiable manager, Owen (Sam Rockwell).

One might misconstrue the title to mean that The Way Way Back is a period piece (like Adventureland, set in the 1980’s, was), but it’s not.  We occasionally see ipods and modern-looking cell phones.  But in the very best possible way, The Way Way Back is dressed in nostalgia and memory, as if we are Duncan looking back, years later, on this summer that profoundly affected him.  The film doesn’t pull any punches in the way that adults can, whether meaning to or not, be terribly cruel to kids.  But the film also doesn’t wallow in that misery (in the way that, say, the great but dour and hard for me to watch The Ice Storm does).  There’s a warmth to the film that I connected to in a powerful way.

Liam James is incredibly effective as Duncan.  This is a young actor I have never seen before, but I will take notice of him now.  He brings a great naturalism to his performance.  He doesn’t over-play the role.  He’s quiet and inward in the way that many 14-year-old boys are.  He sells a few big moments, and all of the many little … [continued]