The Way, Way Back: Is this film worth your time?

Written by Mike Willoughby

Movies are strange and unpredictable creatures. 

Movies are strange and unpredictable creatures. 

They can beguile and intrigue. They can frustrate and disappoint. They can illuminate our lives and cleanse our souls. Then there are the really special ones which, in a world of aggressive marketing and demand generation, can take us completely by surprise and knock us off our feet.

These are a very special breed. They do not come around very often but when they do they are to be cherished and treasured and kept on a special shelf for those times when we feel the need to have our hearts and souls replenished.

Why I love really special films

What I love about these films is that they are not big money projects and they require a very delicate, but also very dedicated touch on the behalf of not only the director, but the writers, the actors, the set designers—hell, the whole cast and crew.

Nostalgia plays a huge part, and the simple fact is that nostalgia is not an easy element to get right. It needs to be nurtured and informed, but it also needs to come from place of almost pure love and honesty. In order to invoke this very special feeling in us, we need to believe it, and we need to believe ALL of it, not just the good bits, but the painful bits as well.

And so we come to The Way, Way Back. Going in to this film the only things I knew was that it starred Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell, and it was written by the same writers who adapted the screenplay for The Descendants. All very positive and promising, but after the recent disappointment of Elysium my sensible hat was firmly in place and I lowered my expectations accordingly. One swallow doesn’t make a summer.

Exactly what I was hoping for

What I experienced was what, in my heart of hearts, exactly what I was hoping for.

It starts with an extremely poignant and slightly disturbing scene between a teenage Duncan (Liam James) and his mother’s new boyfriend Trent (Carell). Whilst Duncan’s mother is asleep in the front seat of their station wagon, and Trent’s own daughter is similarly dozing in the back, Trent asks Duncan how he sees himself on a scale of 1 to 10. He answers in the way most teenagers would – “a 6?!” Cue Trent’s own evaluation of him – “I think you’re about a 3.”

The look on Duncan’s face as he endures this line of questioning is brutally perfect. You can almost see his soul squirming inside of him, and his face relays such a look of discomfort and awkwardness that I swear a little bit of my heart broke within the first few minutes of this film.

All is not lost however. We learn from Trent that Duncan will have plenty of opportunities this summer to get that score up. The whole family is on their way to enjoy the summer holidays at his beech house where Duncan can make new friends and experience new things and really begin to develop his blah blah blah…

Isolated within his new family and surrounded by adults who are more interested in acting like children, Duncan escapes the torture on his bike and discovers the Water Wizz Water Park, fittingly described by its manager Owen (Rockwell) as the last bastion of 80’s technology and all that is good in America. It is here that Duncan finds refuge and aided by Owen and the rest of the staff he begins to find his feet in a world which, up until recently, was a bleak and intimidating place.

Rockwell: The star of the show

The ride certainly isn’t smooth. There are moment s of real pain and bitterness, but these are beautifully balanced with some of the most refreshing comedic lines I have heard in a long time. Writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash have crafted a real gem here and a lot of the success of this film can be attributed to the script, but a lot of credit must also go to the cast who all deliver pitch-perfect performances.

The star of the show is undoubtedly Rockwell, whose character leaves us wanting more at the end of every scene, but a special mention must also go to Carell for his portrayal of the rather odious Trent. Look out for Allison Janney also, the feisty alcoholic Betty whose dysfunctionality is one of the most heart-warming things I have seen in a long time.

Caught me completely off guard

This is a wonderful film. It is spiky and painful and joyful and uplifting and caught me completely off guard in the same manner as The Descendants did last year, and in the same way there are elements which have stayed with me and settled into my heart. For those of you who have also seen this recently, and agree with me, I can also recommend watching Greg Mottola’s Adventureland.

This is going straight onto that special shelf with a very select group of films. Warm, funny, poignant and full of texture—this is another direct hit by Rash and Faxon. I eagerly await what they have in store for me next.

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