This coming-of-ager isn’t in search of uncharted territory, purposely I might add, but it doesn’t stand on the shoulders of its predecessors either…rather, “The Way Way Back” is in search of genre perfection. Although it journeys a road that many have travelled before, it is able to rise above the clichés and worn-out tendencies of the genre to deliver a thoroughly enjoyable romp, that’s more importantly, memorable. “The Way Way Back” is an honest dramedy driven by sentimentality and visceral characters. Benefiting in large part from its creators Jim Rash and Nat Faxon’s ability to infuse wit and charm into the films progressive structure that frequently exhibits intelligence and ingenuity. And complimented by a cast with no shortage of exuberance, quirkiness, and comedic timing. “The Way Way Back” is as funny and sweet as it is saddening.
Duncan (James) is a 14-year-old who is forced to vacation with his mother Pam (Collette) and her new boyfriend Trent (Carrell) at his summer home. Struggling to find where he fits in with this new family and place, Duncan travels to the local water park daily where he makes an unexpected friend in Owen (Rockwell). Eventually garnering a job, Duncan slowly gains more confidence and becomes smitten with his next-door neighbour Susanna (Robb), Betty’s (Janney) daughter. Upon meeting fresh and exuberant characters such as Kip (Corddry), Caitlyn (Rudolph), Lewis (Rash), and Roddy (Faxon), Duncan finally begins to find his place.
In the near future, when “The Way Way Back” is brought up in conversation, one will say “they don’t make ’em like that anymore.” Granted, prior to its release the same was said about past masterpieces of the genre…well…not anymore. “The Way Way Back” is an immaculate concoction of humour, poignancy, and charismatic characters that is decidedly satisfying. While there is a certain level of familiarity in its themes, “The Way Way Back” distinguishes itself from other genre triumphs. It’d be easy to categorize it as a movie about summer love, but upon dissection, it doesn’t orbit around this premise, far from it. Obviously, there is a connection between two young outcasts who happen to fall hard for one another. But, this isn’t the only relationship the audience is subjected to.
“The Way Way Back” puts enough separation between and adds its own unique twist on the importance of guided growth and finding one’s own way. These days, rarely is a film about a mid-teen’s summer adventure into self-exploration and identity discovery as authentic and rewarding as “The Way Way Back.” In addition, scribe’s Faxon and Rash are able to delve into several side-stories that tell tales of characters that are equally as complex and compelling. Despite the fact that there are few films about the importance of father-figures, and even fewer done well. “The Way Way Back” has a heartwarming take on finding a kindred mentor that resonates infinitely. It is becoming increasingly difficult to pull-off films of this nature because it is near-impossible to falsify such universal elements. Thankfully, “The Way Way Back” isn’t trying to fool anyone.
“The Way Way Back” is similar to 2009s rom-com “Adventureland.” And like that film, it is understood that no one jumps straight into the deep-end, it is a gradual process, baby steps. Rash and Faxon understand this well, which is why “The Way Way Back” is so utterly convincing and effective. This is Rash and Faxon’s directorial debuts respectively and second collaboration as writers, their inception coming in 2011 with “The Descendants.” The duo do an excellent job both behind the camera and on paper. They are able to stay away from others footprints and instead, make their own. While both have enjoyed mildly successful acting careers, it appears that the two have a much brighter future as filmmakers. It is a common misconception that switching from acting or writing to directing is simple. Once you’re able to comprehend the talent and effort it takes to be the one in control behind the camera, the easier it will be to appreciate Rash and Faxon’s work here.
Whether they’re working at the local water-park or looking to escape from themselves. The characters of this classic summer flick are all looking to outrun their problems. Which I’m sure they’ll all attest to being a lot harder than it appears. “The Way Way Back” has a superb cast that perform nothing short of superlatively. Starring Sam Rockwell, Steve Carrell, Alison Janney, Rob Corddry, Toni Collette, AnnaSophia Robb, Maya Rudolph, and Liam James. There is no weak spot amongst this group.
With a cast that features comedy heavyweights such as Steve Carrell and Rob Corddry, you’d figure it’d be one of them getting all the laughs, but you’d be wrong. It is Alison Janney who’s bursting with effervescence and drunken candour. She does a spectacular job easing the tension and occasionally prying melancholic eyes away from disheartening realizations. Corddry is his usual eccentric self but adds a surprising dramatic facet to his sparsely used character. Toni Collette portrays a single parent executing her best intentions faultlessly. One feels equal amounts of empathy for her just as much as her directionless child, about as truthful of a performance that you’ll find. Maya Rudolph continues to be underused and underrated and her performance here is more irrefutable proof. AnnaSophia Robb, although given minimal dialogue uses her screen time wisely and her innocence sticks with you long after the film finishes.
Without question, the star of “The Way Way Back” is Sam Rockwell. Blending his endless flare, strong emotional control, and hilarious mannerisms. Rockwell delivers a truly heartfelt, gut-wrenchingly honest, and vulnerable performance that ranks as one of his best to date. Perhaps the most intriguing portrayal in the film however is brought to life by Steve Carrell. Who parts ways with his typical roles based upon being the underdog and good intentions to create an antagonist the audience can full-heartedly despise. And finally, Liam James, who undoubtedly breaks through and is ready for bigger and better things. He perfectly encapsulates the witty, endearing, confused state circumstance has bound him to and exudes it effortlessly.
“The Way Way Back” is an honest yarn. There is no happy ending or depressing ending…just indifference, maturity, and growth. True of life, we do not know what’s going to happen and everything that has already happened serves as nothing but a mould. Nonetheless, “The Way Way Back” is as honest, enthralling, and disheartening as they come, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Way Way Back: 9 out of 10.