Trent: Duncan, on a scale of one to ten, what do you think you are?
Duncan: A six.
Trent: I think you are a three. Since I have been dating your Mum I don’t see you putting your self out there bud. You can try and get that score up at my beach house this summer.
Written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who collaborated on the 2011 film THE DESCENDANTS, THE WAY WAY BACK is a very funny and thoughtful film. I laughed out loud the more this film went on. A lot of the humour comes from the brilliantly written character Owen, played with great charm and outrageousness by Sam Rockwell.
Duncan (Liam James), an awkward teenage boy, who has been taken by his mother, Pam (Toni Collette) and her nasty new boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) on a beachside summer holiday. Pam and Trent aren’t very interested in Duncan. Trent’s teenage daughter Steph (Zoe Levin) is a confident, bitchy alpha female, so there is no respite for Duncan there either. Duncan’s holiday is going from bad to worse until he is befriended by Owen, a carefree employee of the local water park.
The self-centred adults behave badly. Pam and Trent drink, party and get stoned with Trent’s friends, Kip and Joan. Trent’s alcoholic neighbour, Betty (Allison Janney), is the fifth dysfunctional adult in this drama. She is brash, garrulous and obnoxious. Somehow her children are well balanced and empathetic and form part of the group of children that are better behaved than the slacker adults.
Fortunately Owen decides to mentor Duncan. With gloriously inappropriate behaviour he introduces Duncan to fun and mischief, in striking contrast to overbearing Trent’s behaviour. Steve Carell is surprisingly good at playing such a bad character.
The ensemble cast all perform well and are directed with a lovely balance of humour and pathos. The story of an awkward boy struggling to fit into a blended family is a little conventional but Nat Faxon and Jim Rash tackle the story with freshness and charm. I strongly recommend THE WAY WAY BACK.