The Way, Way Back


Admit to it or not, but at some point in your life you’ve likely felt lost, or alone. You revert back into yourself because that’s where you know you’re safest. Worst of all, it stays like that until a special person or event brings you out of your shell and shows you that change is good. Life beyond your routine is worth experiencing. This is what The Way, Way Back teaches adults and teenagers alike, and like life, this film is worth experiencing.



Jim Rash and Nat Faxon (The Descendants) have quickly become two of the best writers in Hollywood. Their films are superficially humorous but display a depth of emotion that sneaks up on you. The Way, Way Back, on the surface, is about fourteen-year-old Duncan (Liam James), as his mother, Pam (Toni Collette), drags him to the beach house of her misogynistic, domineering boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell). While there, he meets the gentle Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb) and the eccentric Owen (Sam Rockwell), who runs the town’s water park.

Deep down, however, the film dives into the concept of being lost and includes it at the adolescent and adult stages of life. Each character, in some way or another, is searching for that one piece that will make them right again. Duncan can’t stand the way his mother so easily submits to Trent’s chauvinism, thus preventing the teen from seeking the motivation to break free from his own hang-ups. Owen, meanwhile, refuses to mature, which forces his love interest (Maya Rudolph) to take a step back before committing herself to him.


These characters, including the numerous others I am not mentioning like Jim Rash’s Lewis, Rob Corddry’s Kip, and Amanda Peet’s Joan, embody that endless need we have to feel loved. Apart from Duncan, the most effective representations of this come from Collette’s Pam and Allison Janney’s Betty. Each woman is dealing with divorce in a different way (one through submission to a new man and one—hilariously—through alcohol). Pam simply fears being alone despite having a son that, if she took the time to notice, needs her help just as much as she needs his. Collette is excellent showing Pam’s slow, reluctant growth alongside Duncan.

Meanwhile, Janney comes in at a close second behind Rockwell for stealing the show. Betty starts the film with a flurry of alcohol-induced humor and gives the impression she’ll be an antagonistic character. Thankfully, she ends up being one of the rare emotional bright spots in a deceptively dark film. Yes, Betty is emotionally dependent upon her children and fears they’ll leave her for their newly-homosexual father, but by the film’s close, you are left wishing for more Betty.


Speaking of wishing for more, for the first time ever I wanted more Sam Rockwell. He absolutely nails the role of Owen. Sarcastic with a lightning-fast wit, Owen keeps the laughs coming. The beauty of the role, however, is the fine line balanced by Rockwell. He has played the obnoxious role before and come off as more of a jerk than anything. This could have happened to Owen very easily, but instead, Rockwell turns into a gentle soul. His mentorship of Duncan is wholly endearing and at no moment is his care for the young boy questioned. Rash and Faxon help foster this relationship through their subtle writing, but Rockwell really drives the point home and it’s a delight to witness.

Once the final credits roll, an unexpected, grave silence settles in as the weight of the story hits you. The Way, Way Back is indeed a hilarious, charming little film that draws you in from the beginning. But, as mentioned, Rash and Faxon provide an emotionally heavy film. You see the struggles of these genuine characters and it harkens back to our own struggles as we found (or are still trying to find) our true self. Adolescents can find hope from The Way, Way Back, while adults can see their past, present and future.


The Way, Way Back is heartfelt and touching. It lightly dances between family drama and coming-of-age comedy. The two young stars (James and Robb) are excellent and the supporting cast of stars only adds to the splendor. It’s currently in limited release, but I’d strongly recommend seeking this one out.

    • movie snob
    • July 16th, 2013

    Great review — the producers should quote you in the ads for this. This may be one of the great ensemble casts in years

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