Coming of age films often follow a familiar trajectory: they follow a young, shy adolescent who discovers new life-pathways helping to build their confidence. Most similar movies have worked with others lacking the whimsical charm such stories need. The Way Way Back fits in the former category as it successfully navigates an emotional tight-rope. Full of genuine pathos and humour it makes fine use of its premise and excellent cast.
Duncan (Liam James) is a young teenager trying to fit in. Attempting to bond with his Mum, Pam’s (Toni Collette), new boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell), he tries to enjoy the summer holidays. Having difficulty doing so, he hangs out at a local theme park run by Owen (Sam Rockwell). There he meets an assortment of like-minded individuals sharing his holiday blues. Forging a new path in an often strange world, Duncan’s resolve is tested with various family dramas unexpectedly surfacing.
Sensitively directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash from their own script, The Way Way Back is consistently enjoyable. Whilst not adding anything new to the genre, it succeeds in conveying the awkwardness of Duncan’s existence. Dealing with adults behaving badly and pressures of conforming to social stereotypes, his efforts in carving out his own slice of life are very relatable. In some ways the screenplay dares to celebrate individuality and magnifies the emptiness of some communal norms.
Making The Way Way Back engaging is the casting. James makes for a fine lead and is ably assisted by his co-stars’ strong performances. Their characters are strange in their own ways and yet bring believability to their friendships. The dose of drama and light humour works perfectly and adds to the overall realism. This, ultimately, is why everything works – the everyday situations are ones most people have dealt with.
Examining familial dysfunction and emerging friendships with skill, The Way Way Back is a fine film. It adds another bow to the gallery of coming of age movies with the journey to personal enlightenment just as foreboding as previous works.
Reviewed by Patrick Moore
Rating out of 10: 8