Premise: 14-year-old Duncan is forced to spend the summer at his mom’s boyfriend’s summer house on the beach. He shows up with no friends, no communication skills, and no charisma. But after befriending (and working for) the owner of a local water park, Owen (Sam Rockwell), he starts to gain some confidence, and maybe things will end up alright after alllllllllllllllll…?
-I loved how this movie was less about telling a grandiose triumphant underdog story, than it was a simple, effectively told plot about merely taking a step in the right direction with your life. This isn’t the kind of movie where the end goal is to land the girl, get revenge on the mom’s evil boyfriend, and become the coolest guy on the planet… Simply getting a friendly kiss from the girl, voicing his concerns about the boyfriend to his mom, and earning a few new friends along the way are a satisfying enough resolutions to the movie. They’re realistic accomplishments, and I liked that.
-It also wasn’t just about the kid trying to find his place in the world; there were many other subplots, and none of them felt forced or out of place. The mom’s story is just as good as her son’s, albeit being told mostly from the perspective of Duncan. Owen’s story of managing Water Wizz is genuinely entertaining and character building. There’s tons of undertones about divorce, as well.
-They create a lot of backstory for the characters solely from interactions between the characters. That’s what’s commonly referred to as “good writing.”
-In a just world, Sam Rockwell would get some kind of award for his role in this movie. He’s pretty awesome in it. A huge theme of the film is Duncan trying to find a father figure, and he quickly takes to Rockwell’s Owen as his favorite choice. Owen is mildly hesitant, but by the end, actually becomes rather protective of Duncan. The poor kid just wants a dad. Rockwell does an amazing job developing the character over the course of the film, and I think a lot of it is owed to the actor’s ability.
-But that’s not to shortchange the writing, either, which I’ve already boasted about. It was written by Jim Rash and Nate Faxon (Dean Pelton from Community, and that one guy with the teeth you’ve probably seen in something but had no idea what his name was), the two guys who also recently won Oscars for writing The Descendants. I approve of any further writing projects from these gentlemen.
-The kid who played Duncan did a decent job acting, I’ve seen much worse teen actors. But the character was basically a 14-year-old version of myself, so I related a lot. I’m sure his characteristics could be applied to a large chunk of teenagers, but c’mon, it really fits the bill of me 14 years ago. Bad haircut? Check. Staring blankly at my plate not saying anything or moving a muscle while the adults were conversing during dinner? Check. Wearing jeans and sneakers to a sunny day at the beach? Check. Not moving arms at all while walking? CHECK. Hanging out with the younger kids that no one else wants to hang out with. Check. A complete and utter failure at talking to girls, resulting in awkward phrases like “It’s going to be a hot summer…”? Oh yes, check.
-Hey, Steve Carrell is playing a character we haven’t seen him do yet! The prickish rich guy! But with no accents!
-Allison Janney plays the perfect constantly drunk crazy lady who always ends up living next to you in a beach house. She’s hilarious in this film as a completely unnecessary character to the plot, but a very welcome one. Same with Rob Corddy’s character. They are both just the kind of people you’d totally expect to occupy a rich beach town.
-Can we get some more movies about introverted dudes learning life lessons over summer vacation? It’s probably my favorite subject matter.
-The movie ends in a feel-good, yet very open ended way. Almost like The Graduate, where the characters make decisions they think is for the best in the end, and it makes you smile, but it leaves you thinking afterwards what’s going to come next for these people? And then you feel a little sad… They key to all of this is that it made me FEEL things.
-Steve Carrell’s character is almost TOO prickish, though. Basically every character in this movie learns some kind of lesson except for him. Though, I suppose his half-hearted commitment to the family is kind of who he is.
-Not to badmouth Toni Collette’s acting, because she’s a good actress; but I’ve already seen her play the broken-yet-caring mother character in Little Miss Sunshine , Fright Night, and The Sixth Sense. Do something else.
-Not that this is a huge negative against it, but for a while I didn’t know what year this film was supposed to be set. The family drives an old station wagon and dress ambiguously basic, there’s even a conversation about 1980s bands. I don’t recall seeing any cell phones. Jim Rash has old glasses and a Freddy Mercury mustache. The title of the movie is “The Way, Way Back”. I thought this movie took place in the 80s until Duncan is seen listening to music on his iPod. So it takes place in present day? But if you take out the iPod, this movie could have easily been set in 1988. Was that the goal? To make a movie set today that felt like it was the 80s? Is this a science fiction movie? Is this town just trapped in time? I DON’T KNOW.
Final Thoughts: The Way Way Back is a lot like Adventureland, which is a movie I love. Though, while it’s less pretentious than Adventureland, it also isn’t quite as deep. And I’m going to be honest, I like me a pretentious deep movie about a dude learning lessons over summer vacation. But I also loved the feel good, realistic spirit of The Way Way Back. Both movies have their feet grounded in reality and just tell great little stories that aren’t set out to be grand romantic spectacles, or over complicated gimmicky scenarios. They are both movies that realize that life itself is complicated enough, and provides the ample amount of (often awkward) romance, without forcing it. I guess I’m trying to say that if someone were to make a film that basically combines Adventureland with The Way Way Back, you’d make me very, very happy.
8.5 out of 10