The Way, Way Back (12A)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner28/08/2013

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 103 mins

Hugely enjoyable coming-of-age story that resists the usual clichés thanks to a sharply observed script, well-rounded characters and terrific performances from a note-perfect ensemble cast.

What's it all about?
Written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (who co-wrote The Descendants), The Way, Way Back is set in present-day Massachusetts and stars Liam James as 14 year old Duncan, who's spending the summer with his mother Pam (Toni Collette), her overbearing boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) and Trent's older teenage daughter Steph (Zoe Levin) at Trent's beach house. While attempting to escape Trent's constant digs, Duncan stumbles across the Water Wizz water park and is offered a summer job by slacker manager Owen (Sam Rockwell).

Duncan takes the job in secret and he soon begins to come out of his shell, as a result of the friends he makes amongst the water park employees (including Maya Rudolph and directors Rash and Faxon). Meanwhile, Duncan begins a fumbling flirtation with Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb), the daughter of Trent's party-loving neighbour Betty (Allison Janney).

The Good
Liam James delivers a convincingly awkward, withdrawn performance as Duncan; he's not an easy character to warm to, so his relationship with Rockwell's surrogate father figure is all the more touching, since Owen clearly sees something in him that is not immediately apparent. Fortunately, Rash and Faxon contrast James' character with lively performances from a terrific supporting cast: Janney steals the show as the hilariously outspoken Betty and Rockwell is charming and likeable as Owen, while Collette is quietly effective as Pam and Carell brilliantly goes against type, as nasty-piece-of-work Trent, with impressive results.

The script is excellent, creating well-rounded characters that are intriguing to watch and neatly sidestepping or putting realistically low-key spins on many of the usual coming-of-age movie clichés; for example, there is a first kiss, but it doesn't play out the way you might expect from this sort of film. Similarly, the dialogue is excellent, finding warmth and humour in the characters and situations rather than going for snappy one-liners.

The Great
On top of that, the film has a pleasingly nostalgic feel to it, rooted in both real-life summer holidays and similar holiday-based movies. In addition, there's a subtle but important message about the importance of human kindness; Duncan may be the main character but Pam and Owen both have sub-plots that are equally moving, while even the most minor supporting characters (notably Levin's Steph and Rash's park employee Lewis) have small but significant character moments, a mark of the script's generosity to its ensemble cast.

Worth seeing?
The Way, way Back is a thoroughly enjoyable, emotionally engaging coming-of-age drama with a sharply observed script and terrific performances from a superb ensemble cast. Highly recommended.

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Content updated: 23/10/2017 10:44

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