The Way, Way Back is a familiar story – lonely, misfit teen and the summer that changes it all. Liam James plays 14-year-old Duncan who, together with his wounded mum (Toni Collette), her condescending boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) and his shallow daughter Steph (Zoe Levin), head to Trent’s beach house for their summer holidays. While there, Duncan befriends local water park employee Owen (Sam Rockwell) and finds solace in a world not contaminated by the demands and restraints of his usual life.
Three things really set this film apart, the first of which is having Steve Carell play an asshole. A familiar unease washed over me like when I rushed to see Dead Poets Society because it starred the funny man from Mork & Mindy Robin Williams, or when The Cable Guy brought the unnerving realisation that Jim Carey’s range extended beyond Ace Ventura. Like both of these iconically-comedic actors before him, Steve Carell continues to demonstrate his broad range.
Sam Rockwell as the water park employee whose Peter Pan complex makes him stand out. While he takes a little warming to with his frenetically paced jokes, this jock with a conscious provides the vast majority of the film’s laughs and charm.
The final distinguishing feature is the script. Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (AKA the cross-dressing, pun machine that is Community’s Dean Pelton) won the 2011 Academy Award for Writing – Adapted Screenplay with their first script, The Descendants. While this current endeavour gives a much lighter take on modern family dynamics, smart and poignant writing continues to be their mainstay. The Way, Way Back also marks this duo’s debut in the directorial chair as well as cameo’s to boot.
For all these appealing factors, the final crescendo is a little weak and fairly forced – even though it does provide one of Rockwell’s finest moments (because reciting Bonnie Tyler lyrics is always funny). In the end though, this film will put plenty of smiles on your dial if nothing else.
BY LEE HUTCHISON
The Way, Way Back hits cinemas on Thursday August 1.