It’s late August, blockbuster season is all but over, and these few precious weeks between summer kiddy movies and half term kiddy movies are often the perfect time to find that cinematic gem, that movie that nobody saw coming that totally makes your summer. Stop looking. You’ve just found your summer movie.
Ignore the horrible TV spots currently ruining The Way, Way Back’s chances of success, and trust us when we tell you that this movie is without doubt a fantastic way to spend 90 minutes. Admittedly, 30 second TV spots could in no way encapsulate the levels of warmth, humour and general joy to found packed between one of the most uncomfortable opening scenes ever committed to celluloid and the end credits.
A sharp, funny, coming of age tale with more water park action than has been seen at the movies for a very long time, The Way, Way Back follows 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James) as he traverses the minefield that is the blended family vacation, where parents are drunk, drugged up and horny, and the kids are bored, sober and desperate to ditch their parents for their own beach-themed fun.
In Duncan’s case, that ditching desperation is entirely justified. Having been told by potential step-father Trent, in said uncomfortable opening scene, that frankly, on a scale of one to ten, Duncan’s loner mummy’s boy barely scrapes a three, it’s clear from minute one that Trent is not on vacation to play potentially happy families. Far from it – what Duncan discovers is that he’s accidentally gone on Spring Break for the middle aged, and children are most definitely not welcome. Which is as grim as it sounds – there’s a reason Spring Break has an upper age limit… and if it doesn’t, someone should really do something about that.
In order to escape the wholeheartedly depressing spectacle of his mother falling for Trent against a backdrop of weed and infidelity, as well as Trent’s frenemy-tinged advice, rather than joining in the debauchery in a teens-gone-wild style, Duncan rebels in possibly the strangest way ever – he gets a job. Or rather, he has a job foisted on him in order to avoid all the embarrassing and slightly creepy hanging around the local water park.
The park, ably managed, or perhaps just watched, by the hilarious and ridiculously charismatic Owen, played with relish by the superb Sam Rockwell, is Duncan’s summer secret, a place he never breathes a word about to anyone, and the place where he finally starts to see that he’s never been a three. Ever.
So far, so coming of age, but what elevates The Way, Way Back from quirky indie flick to mainstream summer contender is the razor sharp script, written by co-directors Jim Rash (Community) and Nat Faxon, by turns hilarious, touching, surprising and occasionally pervy. It’s also unusual in that much of the comedy, particularly where Owen is concerned, is aimed at the, ahem, older members of the audience – it’s been a while since anyone made the Cold War funny.
Full of fantastic characters, played with clear enjoyment by all, including but not limited to Liam James as the hangdog Duncan, who perfectly embodies the geeky on-the-cusp-of-life awkwardness of being 14, Alison Janney as recently divorced holiday lush Betty, the aforementioned Sam Rockwell in one of his funniest performances, and one Steve Carell. His casting as Trent, in a deliberate against-type role, works incredibly well – his usual goofy charms nowhere to be seen, it’s to Carell’s credit that Trent’s total and utter dicknishness is never in question.
In fact, the whole cast is amazing, rounded out by Toni Collette as Duncan’s mother, and Amanda Peet and Rob Corddry as Trent’s incestuous friends. With such a great script, it’s a pleasure to watch a group of accomplished, talented performers clearly having a ball. Frankly, if by the time the end credits roll, you don’t want to move next door to Betty and marry Owen, there is no hope for you, because you’re dead inside.
Yes, it’s got a lack of robots and explosions, it doesn’t have Tom Cruise or Matt Damon making earnest faces at a green screen, but The Way, Way Back will be your favourite movie of summer 2013 and probably beyond. Be nice to yourself and go see it. You can thank us later.
The Way, Way Back is out in UK cinemas on the 28th August.
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