The Way Way Back – Film Review

November 7, 2013 1:42 pm
At times, this summer time, teen romance coming-of-age story is a little bit of a sweet n’ sickly affair. A mopey teenager spends his time moping around a beach town moping about his Mum and Step-Dad. Then the mopey teenager meets another mopey teenager and develop a holiday romance of sorts. Of which is based on a mopey inclination to hate their parents. It’s not breaking-ground in telling about how teenagers live their lives nowadays, but as tired a concept as The Way Way Back is, it’s pretty darn good.

Essentially, awkward and confidence-stricken 14-year-old, Duncan (Liam James) goes on a seaside retreat with this Mother, Pam (Toni Collette) and Step-Father Trent (Steve Carrel). Duncan hates Trent and the feeling is mutual, although never spoken on Trent’s part, his actions indicate this clearly. At the town, Duncan meets Owen (Sam Rockwell), a water park owner who engages then employes the young Duncan and acts as a catalyst for change in his life. This is where the coming of age elements mostly come into play as the over-confident and witty Owen gives Duncan himself to be over-confident and witty. Owen inspires Duncan to be the person he wants to be, as opposed to being the person Trent tells him he is. Duncan then undergoes a transition that is somewhat similar to that of Charlie in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, minus the parental abuse. In what would seem cliched is otherwise achieved well by keeping Trent and Duncan apart for the majority of the film. This keeps things fresh by giving Duncan more time to develop as a character and the interactions between Trent and Duncan have more intensity because of it.

Steve Carrell plays a character completely different to anything else he has before in Trent. Manipulative, abusive and cruel are three main ways to describe Trent. Or arsehole, if you just want one. Although never physically abusive, he cunningly reminds Duncan of his perceived worth, describing him as a “three-out-of-ten” in the film’s opening scene. In a complete 180 to his performances in The Office, Carrell is a dark and vindictive persona, comparative to his Little Miss Sunshine co-star Richard (Greg Kinner). Except where Richard’s abuse was unwittingly applied, Trent is knowingly a bastard. Carrell stands out with his performance as it is unlike anything we have seen from him before. Usually the lovable guy, he is for once an antagonist; the bully – the one we hate. Carrell shows some range and diversity with his acting and does well for it. Perhaps his most complex character since Dan in Real Life.

Rockwell also comes into his own as Duncan’s mentor-of-sorts, as the irresponsible oath, Owen. Living in a perpetual state of bliss and childishness, it is not surprising to see that he owns a water park. In this comedy, Rockwell is the only one truly funny. It is maybe unfair that he was given all of the killer-lines, but perhaps for good reason as he delivers each one with impeccable timing along with excellent dead-pan delivery. His transition comes when he does finally take responsibility for something – or someone, in the form of Duncan. Realising that he does hold influence over the young teen, he steps in to give Duncan the fatherly support that he is lacking from Trent or his real Father. The switch between goofy and serious comes naturally and never feels like a forced development.

As the narrative progresses, a sub-plot about the developing relationship between Duncan and his neighbour Susanna (AnnaSophie Robb) comes into play. The way it developed never seemed natural and felt too Hollywood-esque for an indie-comedy/drama. There was a spark of affinity between the two but the reasoning behind the relationship never became clear. It just seemed like two moody teenagers got along in a town full of vapid kids and no one else was like them. Liam James and AnnaSophie Robb seemed to get left behind in terms of acting ability of their co-stars. Their only saving grace was being written like bored teenagers, because it felt like showing any other

emotion would be an ask.

One of The Way Way Back‘s greatest achievements is that it feels refreshingly different (despite feeling similar to Adventureland) and it is nice to a coming-of-age comedy film on the big screen again. It is fair to say that the sub-genre has offered more original, well-rounded and better developed characters in the past as opposed to the box-standard ‘troubled teens’ in this offering. However, the story to The Way Way Back never gets tiring despite the minor characterisation issues. It is well worth a watch, but not the best of its kind. Maybe one day we’ll get the cinema alternative to Holden Caulfield, but this will more than suffice for now.

Tags:
  • Alpha Whiskey Photography

    Saw this movie and loved it. Great underdog story. Sam Rockwell was brilliant in it. Also check out That’s What I Am, with Ed Harris.

    • Dean West

      Cheers for the comment. I’ve seen That’s What I Am and I agree, it is a really good film. I love coming of age flicks as their stories are much more personal and humanised than most movies out nowadays.

%d bloggers like this: