"The Way, Way Back" played at my town's cinema on Wednesday last week, oddly just before the DVD was released. Because it was an indie film released over the summer, my town's theater didn't show it till this month, as part of their Wednesday Cinema Arts Series done each spring and fall, after the major summer and winter blockbusters are over. Since I worked all summer up to six days a week, getting to the movies in my own town was difficult (I only managed to see four during that time on days I had off), but going out of town to see one of these indie films at an arthouse cinema would have been impossible. Too bad, since this is the kind of film that would have been a welcome break from all the comedies, action, animation and other mainstream releases that dominate the summer movie season. But I was glad to see it was playing in town last week and I went out and got the DVD on Tuesday.
I enjoyed this movie more that I would have expected. It's such a touching movie and I must admit I've only seen a few movies I can say this about. It's a heartfelt tale of a lonely boy, Duncan (Liam James), whom we first see in the far back seat of his divorced mother Pam's (Toni Collette) new boyfriend Trent's (Steve Carell) old station wagon. Such a seat was colloquially referred to in the old days "the way, way back," the title reference. They, along with Trent's daughter Steph (Zoe Levin) head to Trent's beach house for the summer. Trent makes a remark to Duncan (which I will not say here, though it has been quoted in other reviews I've seen of this online and in the IMBD entry) that makes the already sullen and withdrawn Duncan feel even more depressed.
Upon the characters's arrival at the beach house, the audience meets a mix of summer neighbors who take trips on boats and hold bonfire parties on the beach. These include divorced, talkative recovering addict Betty (Alison Janney) and Kip and Joan (Rob Corddry and Amanda Peet). Betty has three kids, including Susanna whom Duncan seems to pine over and Peter (River Alexander) who is reluctant to wear a necessary eye patch. Pam and Trent, become preoccupied with the neighbors and with each other. Duncan feels even more isolated and upon finding a bike (albeit a pink girlie one), he heads downtown and meets man-child Owen (Sam Rockwell) at a pizzeria, playing video games. Owen, we learn, manages a local water park, and the following day Duncan rides his bike to Water Wizz (it's the name of a real water park) and is given a job, which he keeps secret from the adults. He also sees Owen as a friend and mentor. The water park becomes Duncan's place of solace.
The film is directed and written by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash who worked on 2011's "The Descendants." The two also make appearances in the film as water park employees.
This is a touching coming-of-age story that focuses on the awkward type of teen who wants to fit in and how he can come into his own. As the kind of person was more introverted as a teen (and even today as an adult), I could really feel the boy's pain. Anyone who's felt this way should see this movie.