The Way, Way Back is the latest from the screenwriters, Jim Nash and Nat Faxon, who won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for their work on The Descendants. The charming, funny and heartwarming film stars an ensemble cast that may be the best of the year, teased in The Way, Way Back trailer.
When we who write about movies talk about the perfect summer movie, it usually involves explosions, action and things that go well with a bucket of popcorn. Yet, our The Way, Way Back review finds that there is quite possibly no better summer movie than this one in 2013.
The film takes place over the course of one life-changing summer for our protagonist, a teenage boy named Duncan (Liam James). It commences with him sitting in the way, way back seat (thus the title) of the car of his mother’s (Toni Collette) boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell). The Office veteran and current voice of Gru in Despicable Me 2 plays against type and is absolutely not the nicest person he’s ever played.
One of the first conversations of the film is Trent trying to talk to Duncan across the car. He asks him, “How do you rate yourself on a one-to-ten scale?”
Duncan reluctantly responds, “A six.” To which Trent retorts, “I would say more of a three.”
They are traveling to Buzzard’s Bay in Massachusetts for a summer by the beach at Trent’s summer home. Although in theory a summer by the beach sounds fun, in reality for Duncan… it is just this side of hell.
There are a bevy of characters he meets upon arrival that immediately enlighten the film including the drunk (and hysterical) next door neighbor (Allison Janney), her daughter (AnnaSophia Robb) and Trent’s husband and wife beach BFFs (Rob Corddry and Amanda Peet), none of whom inspire Duncan to reverse his opinions on the summer ahead.
Then, he discovers a local water park and is taken under the wing of the manager Owen (Sam Rockwell) and his co-worker/person Owen wishes was his girlfriend -- Caitlin (Maya Rudolph). Immediately, our story and Rash and Faxon’s film takes off to utterly brilliant heights.
As they showed in The Descendents, the screenwriters can interweave a character tapestry effortlessly that is both dramatic, humorous and always as real as cinematic characters come. The fact that they make their directorial debut (and also star as water park workers) only enhances the movie on numerous levels. As actors who also direct, they have an uncanny connection to their cast. As writers, Faxon and Rash extol the virtues of what we expect from great (and Oscar-winning) storytellers.
With The Way, Way Back they manage to craft a world in a couple of hours that develops its ensemble to the fullest, inserts a bit of romance for our young lead, shows the importance of mentoring (a lost art in our society) and always never loses sight of the fact that at the end of the day… a film’s job is to entertain. And this movie does so wholeheartedly.
The cast raises their game with each passing scene as the drama develops. Carell mines a devilish persona that fits him, surprisingly, like a glove. Collette and Janney play polar opposites that beautifully balance each other. And Rockwell proves yet again that even in a film with the highest quality of actors, there is something about him that will accept the challenge of an extraordinary cast and not only rise to it, but soar well above it.