29 August 2013


It's interesting to see that off the back of their Oscar winning script for The Descendants, a film about parenthood that was best enjoyed with your parents and grandparents, writers Jim Rash and Nat Faxon have branched out into directing with a film that takes the opposite perspective. The Way Way Back is far more of a coming-of-age story than the last script we saw from this duo.

14-year-old Duncan is having an utterly miserable time on his summer holiday, under the yoke of his mother's awful boyfriend, Trent. For the grown-ups, the holiday is "spring break for adults", but for a socially awkward kid like Duncan, it's complete hell. Things liven up when he bumps into Owen, the charismatic manager of a run-down water park, who sees his potential and offers him a job for the summer. The following weeks bring him out of his shell and change his life for the better.

There's a refreshing lack of obviousness about this one. Rash and Faxon never go for the easy, predictable route in building their characters, and their attention to personal detail is really quite impressive. For instance, take Trent, who is first seen telling poor Duncan that he's a 3/10, as a person- based on a conversation that Rash really had with his mother's boyfriend when he was young. He's an alpha male, and a domineering dickhole, but the writers don't ever once take the shortcut of making him abusive, and nor do they need to resort to such lengths to evoke dislike for this character.

It's especially unexpected to see an actor as likeable as Steve Carell disappear into a role so obnoxious. You're dying for someone to thump this bloke all the way through, but the depth of character that's expressed makes it believable that other people might think he's a cool guy. Taking things from the perspective of Duncan, ably played by Liam James, we know that he must be destroyed. Well, nothing so mean-spirited, but we get the point.

The effectiveness of this kind of film often hinges on the young hero, and by starting with that devastatingly banal putdown immediately gives us sympathy for this character, in overcoming his crippling shyness and standing up for himself. The film flips into feel-good territory once he arrives at the water park. More aptly, it becomes wonderful as soon as Sam Rockwell shows up as Owen. It's getting to where I'm almost happy that Rockwell doesn't show up in as many films as he should, because it's such a treat when he does.

Owen is the kind of role you could imagine a younger Bill Murray playing, and even if he's never quite reached that level of stardom, it suits Rockwell down to the ground. It's one of my favourite performances from him, as an overgrown kid who is able to serve as both peer and mentor to Duncan. Rash and Faxon, who also have supporting roles as staff members at the water park, direct their cast very well- you often see that with actors turned directors, and their lack of time on-screen together suggests they might even have been able to direct each other too.

The Way Way Back doesn't have anything to make it drastically stand out from other summertime coming-of-age movies, but it has a nigh-on impossible feel-good factor, a funny and well-written script and an enviable cast of performers. Released towards the end of the summer, it's arriving at the perfect time, full of nostalgia for those summers that you want to last forever, and what feels like an uncommonly personal story from Jim Rash and Nat Faxon. It's not just Sam Rockwell's phenomenally charismatic performance, and even if it were, that would be more than enough reason to declare this one of the most enjoyable films of this year- at least a 9 out of 10.

The Way Way Back is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen The Way Way Back, why not share your comments below? This definitely isn't to be confused with Peter Weir's The Way Back.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch

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