The Way Way Back
The Way Way Back is by no means a perfect movie, but it is a good movie, and one worth spending a summer afternoon savoring. Named after Duncan’s spot in the not-quite-blended-family station wagon, the film is a coming of age tale, set in a chummy seaside town that seems to have no use for an an awkward teenager with bad posture and worse jeans.
Writing team Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (The Descendants) make their directorial debut with The Way Way Back and do a good job with the scale of the story. Duncan’s big moments are all small but intensely meaningful to him…and to me, as a viewer, as the film went on. Faxon and Rash are also great at subtext: One scene has Duncan, his mom, his mom’s boyfriend and the boyfriend’s daughter playing a extremely tense game of Candyland in a charade of family togetherness. I’ve never seen so much said with a few slams of a plastic gingerbread man.
The film has an excellent ensemble cast (including Faxon and Rash themselves as water park employees), but its characters are unevenly nuanced. We know more about why the next door neighbor (a hilarious Allison Janney) is perpetually tipsy than why Duncan’s candidate-for-stepdad, Trent (Steve Carell), is such a jerk. Sam Rockwell steals the screen (per usual) as the water-park manager, Owen, who takes Duncan under his wing. He’s an absolute delight to watch, but we’re told more than shown about his character’s backstory. Duncan’s mom is solidly portrayed by Toni Collette but needed more written depth. Collette gives Pam hints and shadows, but one more line or telling action might have helped us understand why she ended up with such an awful guy. And Trent’s daughter, Steph, is a just a sketch of a mean girl; it would have been nice to see a few more cracks in her facade.
But maybe the point is we’re seeing out of Duncan’s eyes, and Duncan isn’t privy to the hidden world of adults yet. He’s edging into it and trying to survive. It’s to Faxon and Rash’s credit that I really, really wanted him to.
Do you have a favorite coming-of-age film?