There’s not much to this film. It’s not strictly a comedy, it’s not really a drama, and unless I completely missed the message I’m fairly certain it’s not a thriller. The Way Way Back is a feel good film plain and simple, but it does take a bit of patience to get the ball rolling. There are funny moments, mostly supplied by the supporting cast, and there are painfully awkward early teenage make-you-squirm-in-your-seat moments, but the overall picture leaves you with a smile and not much else. It is enjoyable, although easily forgettable, and has a very “meh” sort of feeling to it.
If you’ve looked at the casting for this film you would have noticed Steve Carell among the list. Be warned, this is not one of his timeless comedic roles. While the film does make you laugh at certain parts, he can take no credit for any of the giggles. He’s nosy, he’s mean, he’s bossy, but he is definitely not funny. He is the worst kind of “mom’s boyfriend”, and in that way his character is a complete success. I would, however, be seriously surprised if you didn’t want to kick him where it hurts by the end of the film. He is absolutely despicable…and not in the quirky animated sense.
As for the rest of the cast, Allison Janney and Sam Rockwell are fantastic. Janney stumbles through the film as an embarrassing alcoholic mother, and most of the comedy comes from her questionable parenting. You will often hear her just off screen making a wise crack joke or humiliating her kids to the point of therapy. Two thumbs up for her performance. Rockwell, meanwhile, plays the adult who never really grew up: he is always there when needed, he knows nothing and everything, his job is to hang out at a water park, and I want to be his friend. So. Badly. These two characters give the movie a pulse. Unfortunately, the protagonist, Duncan, played by Liam James, has one go-to face and that face screams “I’m miserable and bored”. His character gets pretty old pretty fast, and ends up slowing down the pace of the film. You long for him to do something extreme (like talk to the girl next door) and when he does you cringe at the awkwardness and beg him to try the silent approach again. Now that I think of it, he really does capture the spirit of being fourteen.
One thing Duncan is seriously talented at, however, is being sneaky. This kid is a creeper in the making: behind the stairwell, around sheds, under porches, hidden by the darkness of night, he is the Batman of eavesdroppers, and he slithers his way in and out of scenes like a suspicious cat. If this were Batman, he’d be League of Shadows material for sure.
The Way Way Back certainly reminds you of those “precious” early teenage years. It’s told from the perspective of the child-character and makes the adults look like untrustworthy, irresponsible, lying drunks. Like I said, it’s not really a comedy. It does, however, put a smile on your face, thanks to the charming secondary characters living life like leaves in the wind. The Way Way Back is a nice break from the summer’s blockbuster actions and horrors so it’s worth a watch if you’re looking for something different. But I unfortunately can’t see it lasting the test of time.