It would be easy to dismiss The Way Way Back as yet another by the numbers coming of age drama, but this entry in the well worn genre is several notches above average, not least because of a terrific performance by the brilliant Sam Rockwell.
Rockwell plays slacker water resort manager Owen, who takes fourteen year old Duncan (Liam James) under his wing when he is forced to spend a summer holiday with his mother Pam (Toni Collette) and her obnoxious new boyfriend Trent (Steve Carrell), who rates Duncan as a “three” on “a scale of one to ten”. The usual tropes of this kind of film are then duly played out with Owen becoming an unlikely mentor to Duncan, who in turn gains confidence, self worth and finds romance with girl next door Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb), who has her own parental complaints to overcome.
Performances are all very good, especially from the afore-mentioned Rockwell. The witty, knowing screenplay ensures all characters are properly developed and writer/directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash helm the piece with a sure hand(s), even playing a couple of small roles themselves.
On a moral/spiritual note, this is yet another examination of the effect of parental separation on children (there seems to have been an awful lot of those this year), the spin here being that the adults behave like children and vice versa (one character refers to their location as being “like Spring Break for adults”). But this doesn’t point fingers of blame. Even characters like Trent are ultimately allowed a smidgeon of sympathy, and as such this is about accepting whatever hand life deals you and being confident regardless.
The Way Way Back isn’t going to change the course of cinema, but it is a quirky, funny, touching gem of a film that punches well above its humble ambitions, and will appeal to anyone who has ever had to overcome awkwardness in their formative years, not to mention parental separation.