Title: The Way, Way Back

Directors: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash

Starring: Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb (TV’s ‘The Carrie Diaries,’ ‘Soul Surfer’), Sam Rockwell and Liam James (TV’s ‘The Killing,’ ‘Psych’)

Contending with the uncertainty and self-consciousness of being away from home for an extended period of time, especially when you’re forced to deal with brutal candor from the few people you do know, can be an unnerving process for many people, particularly teens. But finding your voice among new friends, who truly understand your feelings and motivations, can lead to a transformative experience of reckless abandon of any feelings of self-doubt. This is certainly the case with 14-year-old Duncan, the teen protagonist in the new comedy-drama ‘The Way, Way Back.’ He finally finds the confidence in himself to truly accept who he is after finding a surprising group of friends during his dreaded summer vacation.

‘The Way, Way Back’ tells the coming-of-age story of Duncan (Liam James), as he’s forced to take a summer vacation with his mother, Pam (Toni Collette), her overbearing boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell), and his daughter, Steph (Zoe Levin). Finding it difficult to fit into the beach community where Trent has a summer house, the introverted Duncan finds an unexpected friend in Owen (Sam Rockwell), the outgoing and daring manager of the nearby Water Wizz Water Park. Through his clandestine friendship with Owen, Duncan slowly learns to become more social and finally find his place in the world. Not only does the teenager finally have the courage to confront his mother over Trent’s deceitful and condescending ways, he also finds the nerve to pursue a romantic relationship with the girl next door, Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb).

Faxon and Rash, who won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for their feature film writing debut, ‘The Descendants,’ realistically and emotionally captured the quintessential moment of teenage angst in their follow up script. The first time feature film directors bravely reflected on their own feelings of teenage uncertainly, and realistically channeled the self-consciousness that makes up adolescence into Duncan. Continuously contending with his feelings that his father abandoned him, his mother doesn’t listen to his feelings and Trent only views him as someone he can ridicule to make himself feel better, James perfectly captured the two filmmakers’ intention of following a young protagonist as he finds his place in the world.

While James’ perfect creative ability of infusing Duncan with a naive vulnerability throughout ‘The Way, Way Back’ seamlessly made his portrayal one of the standout performances in the film, he also created an emotional and comical bond with Rockwell. While Owen regularly relies on sarcasm and jokes to make the people around him feel at ease and more comfortable in any situation, Rockwell also had a natural emotional charisma with his young co-star. The two actors instantly form a bond in an effort for the characters to learn something from each other. Immediately seeing Duncan’s shy ways and his lack of having a sense of humor, Owen immediately hires the teen to work at the water park, in an effort to help him expand his horizons. In return, Duncan shows his new boss that he should take life more seriously and shouldn’t always push away his feelings, as it could actually ruin his relationships.

Production designer Mark Ricker innovatively helped Faxon and Rash create an authentic beach community where Duncan and his impromptu family spend the summer. Filming in the town of Marshfield, Massachusetts, the comedy-drama artistically showed the close knit feeling of the community, from the distinct and quaint waterfront houses to the sandy beach the small neighborhood lives on to the old-fashioned, communal water park. Ricker gave an authentic, distinct feeling to each of the houses in the neighborhood; from the ship and naval-inspired house Trent owns to the picturesque home Susanna lives in with her mother, Betty (Allison Janney), and her two brothers, as Betty hopes to show her ex-husband that she still lives a wonderful life after he left, each house is truly reflective of each family’s motivations.

The scenes filmed at the water park where Owen and Duncan work were actually shot at the full operational Water Wizz in East Wareham, Massachusetts. The real family-inspired amusement park provided an expansive, colorful backdrop with real park patrons that provided an authentic atmosphere for Duncan to truly learn how to become more comfortable around other people. The kid and adult rides provided the perfect family setting for Owen and the other park employees to truly learn about Duncan, and push him to take control over his life and how people perceive him.

With their directorial debut and follow-up to their Academy Award-winning writing debut, Faxon and Rash created an authentically funny comedy-drama that was smartly and genuinely infused with emotion and sentiments. The filmmakers realistically captured the quintessential moment of teenage angst with their captivating youthful protagonist, who was vulnerably portrayed by James. Mixed with his naturally bond with Rockwell and the authentic production design created by Ricker, ‘The Way, Way Back’ is a smart and memorial look into how family and friends can both positively and negatively influence a teen’s outlook on himself and the world.

Technical: B+

Acting: A-

Story: B+

Overall: B+

Written by: Karen Benardello

The Way, Way Back Movie Review

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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