Twitter Plot Summary: On a summer vacation with his Mum and step-Dad, 14 year old Duncan makes friends with the carefree owner of the local water park.
Director: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
Key Cast: Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Sam Rockwell, Allison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb, Maya Rudolph, Liam James, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet, River Alexander, Zoe Levin, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash.
Five Point Summary:
1. Giving him a 3 rating. That’s harsh.
2. Sam Rockwell – legend.
3. And lo, a career at a water park doth begin.
4. It all comes out in the open. Most of them don’t seem that bothered.
5. A satisfying ending. Scriptwriters, take note.
The Way Way Back opens in a low key fashion; whilst driving to their summer home, we only see wannabe step-Dad Trent’s (Carell) eyes and forehead reflected in the rear view mirror as he talks to step-son Duncan (James) and asks him to rate himself on a scale of 1-10. After Duncan gives himself a reasonable rating of 6, Trent states he sees him as a 3. And thus, with this snippet of interaction, the tone is set for the next 100 minutes. Duncan is shy and locked within his shell – his mother is determined to make things work with Trent; Trent looks down on Duncan; Duncan’s father has moved away with his new (younger) girlfriend. Understandably Duncan has a somewhat bleak worldview at the start of the film. As it’s a coming of age drama you expect Duncan to find his place in the world, or at least start off down that path. In this sense the script doesn’t venture into any new ground, instead it’s the characters that bring it to life and elevate it beyond cliché.
I was able to identify with Duncan’s sense of disenfranchisement, his feelings of not fitting in with the crowds and wanting to find his own path. Whilst I can’t draw on the feelings of abandonment that he also feels, specifically with regards to his parent’s divorce and separation, the lack of focus to his life is something that I’m sure many people can use to draw comparisons to their own lives. Sometimes a new experience or new perspective is required to give you that impetus to go forth and branch out, either on your own or with support from friends and family, and that is where the strength in this film lies. By finding escape from the repressive attitudes of Trent and the laissez-faire attitude of his mother, Duncan is able to explore new boundaries within the convenient narrative framing device of the Water Wizz park.
For anyone that may have had any doubt about Steve Carell’s acting abilities (I’m sure some people out there aren’t keen on him), then look no further than this. He’s completely unlikeable and this doesn’t change from opening to close, at one point berating Duncan for staying out all day and not checking in and then doing exactly the same thing himself a short time later. Sam Rockwell meanwhile is at the top of his game, his fun-loving, wisecracking park owner Owen is simply fantastic. He undergoes a similar journey to Duncan, as though the meeting of the two of them, despite the age gap, has made each of them realise their potential and make some essential changes in their lives. Liam James is similarly impressive as Duncan – he definitely fits the bill of awkward teenager. Support from Toni Collette (restrained yet strong performance), Maya Rudolph (playing off Rockwell’s flirting perfectly) and directorial pair of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash add colour to proceedings as two water park employees. It’s a great cast and whilst not every character is fully fleshed out, in the grand scheme of things it’s not all that important.
Furthermore, the friendly relationship Duncan has with the girl next door doesn’t feel forced and complements his journey of self discovery, and not in that sense you dirty minded people. The ending too doesn’t wrap things up perfectly, instead resolving the story but leaving it open for either a sequel or, my preferred option, letting the audience make their own minds up as to what will happen next for everyone. Suffice to say we don’t need to see what happens next with Duncan and his family, and first time directors Faxon and Rash have given us an excellent coming of age drama. More please.
Favourite scene: Duncan is forced to come out of his shell by breaking up an impromptu dance party in the water park.
Owen: I’m afraid I’m gonna have to ask you to leave!
Owen: You’re having way to much fun. It’s making everyone uncomfortable.
Owen: Wow! I was just kidding! That wasn’t even my best stuff!
Silly Moment: The fact they get to spend a whole summer in a seaside town – don’t these people have jobs to go to?