Liam James as “Duncan” and AnnaSophia Robb as “Susanna” on the set of THE WAY WAY BACK
2013, 103 minutes
Review by Joshua Handler
The Way, Way Back marks the directorial debut of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, the Oscar-winning screenwriters of The Descendants and has a cast that includes Liam James, Sam Rockwell, Toni Colette, Maya Rudolph, Steve Carrell, AnnaSophia Robb, and Allison Janney, among many others. It is a coming-of-age story that tells the story of Duncan, an awkward teen boy who goes with his mother, her nasty boyfriend, and the boyfriend’s daughter to their vacation house for the summer. While there, Duncan comes of age. Heard it before? Yep.
The only thing about this movie that saves it from being terrible is the acting. Steve Carrell is in top form as Duncan’s mom’s boyfriend. Unlike usual, he plays a really despicable man who is unlikable throughout. Carrell is shockingly effective at playing this kind of character. The rest of the cast is solid, but it is Sam Rockwell who turns in the best and most likable performance of the cast. Rockwell’s career is bizarre because I think he’s one of the best and most underrated actors working today, but I don’t like many of the movies that he’s acted in (this, Seven Psychopaths, and Cowboys & Aliens). His movie choices are overall poor (with some notable exceptions), but his performances are all excellent. If you’ve seen Duncan Jones’ excellent Moon, you’ll see what an amazing performer Rockwell is, as he performs in what is basically a one-man show. Rockwell plays Owen, the man-child who owns the town water park. He mentors Duncan and helps him through the summer. Rockwell is such an effective actor because he seems to believe in every role that he’s cast in.
Fox Searchlight Pictures picked up this film for a whopping $10 million at the Sundance Film Festival this year. They probably were thinking this would be the next Little Miss Sunshine, a film that shares similar themes, a distributor, and many cast members with The Way, Way Back. The Way, Way Back tries so hard to be Little Miss Sunshine and other coming-of-age movies of the sort that it becomes clichéd and boring. Nothing in The Way, Way Back is fresh. The screenplay is so flat and emotionally uninvolving that it hard to care about anything that happens in the film. It doesn’t help that Duncan is flat and boring himself. He is overshadowed by the relatively colorful supporting characters. I hate indie movies that try to be other smarter, more popular movies. This movie does not have its own voice. It tries, and fails, to be unique and just ends up being irritatingly derivative.
Overall, The Way, Way Back is a huge waste of time. It isn’t good or bad, just a movie so average and so derivative that it becomes depressing after a while. I didn’t like this movie from 15 minutes in on until the end. It just doesn’t strike an original enough tone. Few of the characters are well-drawn or likable making this an extremely hard movie to enjoy. The Way, Way Back could have been excellent had it not been so derivative.