The Way, Way Back (2013)

Nat Faxon, Sam Rockwell, Liam James and Maya Rudolph in The Way, Way Back (2013)

The Way, Way Back is a lightweight coming-of-age summer holiday comedy/drama, often funny but rarely convincingly dramatic. Much like After May, it places at its centre an actor not quite up to the task – here, Liam James as the introverted, awkward teenager Duncan. He’s not supposed to be particularly charismatic, but James finds little reason for us to be invested in the character’s struggles, as he tries to come to grips with his own identity in a splintered family (his mother (Toni Collette) has taken up with a douchebag boyfriend played by Steve Carell).

Without a substantial focal character, attention shifts to the supporting cast who are, thankfully, excellent across the board. Duncan escapes the drunken antics of his family to spend his days at a rundown waterpark, whose employees grant the film a breezy charm. There’s the always-reliable Maya Rudolph and small roles for screenwriter/directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, but the true standout is Sam Rockwell. He’s outgoing, brash, hilarious and sad all at once; it’s an attention-grabbing performance and the best reason to watch the film.

There could’ve been a genuinely great movie with Rockwell’s Owen as its focus; instead, The Way, Way Back is merely good.

3 stars

12 thoughts on “The Way, Way Back (2013)

  1. It’s a safe and conventional script, but with the ensemble it has involved, it almost doesn’t matter because everybody’s so good. Especially Rockwell who, once again, steals just about every scene he’s in. Good review.

    • Yeah, the pleasures of this film are almost entirely in watching the ensemble hang out, though the script gives some actors less to work with (Allison Janney, for example, does her best with a really, really under-written role). Cheers!

  2. You know, Boss.. I really didn’t like this movie… I felt more for the parents (mom) than the kid and I know this was supposed to be all about the kid and his perspective. That could make me a dick for all I know but that was MY perspective. Rockwell was very good though.

    • I know what you mean! I really wanted to see a movie about Carell and Collette, or just the water park employees, rather than a little bit of each centred on the world’s least interesting protagonist.

    • Forgettable is a good word for it. I don’t regret seeing it at all but I’m in no rush to recommend it/watch it again! Thanks for the comment 🙂

  3. I agree with you for the most part. Even then, I actually find Liam James’s performance a little fascinating. Not because it is necessarily good, but because it is so awkward. Maybe too much so? Maybe the just the right amount? I can’t decide.

    • I actually don’t mind him in the first act or so of the film, because he’s genuinely so awkward; it’s not entirely plausible or engaging or whatever, but it’s the kind of character you don’t see very often in film. So, of course he finds himself and asserts himself yada yada yada, but the actor and the script seem to lose grasp of the character in the process. *shrug*

  4. I actually thought Duncan a compelling character and James’ performance quite good. But I agree the film has its flaws and winds up being less than it could have been. In fact, I called it my biggest disappointment of 2013. I stand by that.

    • Yeah, I think in my head it could’ve been Adventureland (which I loved) plus Sam Rockwell, which sounds like an amazing movie and now I want to watch that movie.

      • I haven’t seen Adventureland, actually. But this, I think, had potential to be a universally applicable coming of age story, if only it hadn’t gone too slow in Act 1, and too fast in Acts 2 and 3. And then, if only Rash and Faxon had written Trent with just a little nuance.

        Between Collette, Rockwell, James and Rudolph this was so close to being dynamic, one of the best of 2013. But instead it wound up being slightly above average.

  5. Pingback: The Fault in our (Movie) Stars: The Lack of Social Media in the Cinematic Medium | ccpopculture

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