“The Way, Way Back” is an example of the quirkiness of the independent film circuit. From time to time studio members will find a film that makes the rounds at the major festivals and bring it to mainstream audiences, hoping it will appeal to the slightly cultured crowd. Such is the case of “The Way, Way Back”, which comes from the same studio that produced the indie-sleeper hits “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Juno”.
“The Way, Way Back” stars Liam James as Duncan, a 14-year-old saddled with spending the summer with his mom, played by Toni Collette, her new boyfriend Trent, played by Steve Carell, and his daughter, played by Zoe Levin, at Trent’s beach house in an unspecified seaside town.
During the vacation, Duncan finds an unexpected friend in Owen, played by Sam Rockwell, the manager of the Water Wizz water park. This sets the stage for your typical coming-of-age/unforgettable summer story where Duncan begins to work through his anxieties and hang-ups. Rounding out the supporting cast, we have AnnaSophia Robb, Maya Rudolph, Allison Janney and Amanda Peet.
The first thing I noticed right off the bat is that it feels like the studio was hoping to recreate the same style and setting of “Little Miss Sunshine” and failed at this due to the film missing a few key factors: namely the dysfunctional yet natural dynamic between the characters that made “Little Miss Sunshine” so likable.
Sadly, this film never quite hits that stride. While it does an okay job of giving us a fairly relatable main lead, as well as some downright repulsive supporting characters, there’s never really a dynamic that’s established. Part of it is because there are just some characters who don’t really add to the story in any capacity aside from spewing an excess of venom.
On that same note, the beginning of this film is a bit unpleasant.
However, I’m willing to dismiss this on the grounds of artistic license as it helped me as a viewer to empathize with the main character.
The story really begins to pick up once Sam Rockwell’s character is introduced. That character, while being a laid-back party animal, didn’t feel nearly as ridiculous and cartoony as some of the supporting cast that were introduced at the start of the film.
In the case of the acting, it’s good for the most part, but some performances are hindered by the writing and the fact that some of the characters were just unnecessary.
While I can give Steve Carell props for going against type, his performance was lacking in certain regards.
I understand he’s not supposed to be agreeable, but this is also a case where the writing could have been improved
Another problem I had with the film was how forced the drama and the Aesop felt, the Aesop being the moral or message a film is trying to get across. This is also an example of the studio attempting to recreate the same aura as “Little Miss Sunshine” without a clear understanding of what made that film work.
I understand that one has to resolve the plot somehow, but the more dramatic moments could have been handled a little bit better, even if you were going for the “unresolved” family drama for which other independent films are known.
Despite those glaring issues, the movie did manage to win me over by the end, as there are definitely some good bits to be had later in the film, particularly with the comedy as well as Rockwell’s performance. If you’re able to stomach the very “indie” feel, then it’s worth checking out. While it could have been better, it’s still entertaining if you’re in the right mindset. On my personal scale, I give “The Way, Way Back” a 3.5/5.