Caught a preview of The Way, Way Back last night. It’s a charming coming-of-age comedy about Duncan (Liam James) and the summer he spends at the beach. He and his mother Pam (Toni Collette) are staying with Trent (Steve Carell), her new boyfriend, and his daughter Steph (Zoe Levin). They’re also hanging out with the drunk next-door neighbor (Allison Janney), her daughter (AnnaSophia Robb), and couple Joan (Amanda Peet) and Kip (Rob Corddry). It’s not until Duncan discovers the local Water Wizz water park and its manager (Sam Rockwell) that he finds a place to belong.
Zoe Levin, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Sam Rockwell, and Liam James in The Way, Way Back
The movie was written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, which is what makes it exceptional. They also have small roles as park employees, although Rash is nearly unrecognizable. The two previously co-wrote The Descendants, another summerish family relationship film. You can watch them joking around with several of Rash’s fellow Community cast members in this video.
Of course Trent is a jerk, and of course Duncan feels left out when his mom wants to spend time with her boyfriend instead of him. There are no fantasy elements here — no life-changing romance, no magical resolution of the hurts — just real, watchable performances. Sam Rockwell, in particular, lights up the screen when he’s on it, but I appreciated the way his character wasn’t presented as some kind of ideal figure. It’s clear how his life and charm, while attractive to a lonely 14-year-old, is also masking his own struggles.
Liam James and AnnaSophia Robb in The Way, Way Back
This is a different kind of summer escape, a nice change from the exaggerated over-the-top blockbuster. Here’s the trailer: