Stuck in the Back Seat of Life
by Zac Ryan
The Way, Way Back makes coming-of-age less traumatic and a whole lot more fun.
Adults over a certain age may remember those old station wagons with the two front bucket seats and a row in the middle, and another row of seats in the back - the way back. It's a spot typically relegated to the youngest member of the family, who is forced to sit facing the road behind him, seeing what has already passed, not what is yet to come.
When we first meet Duncan (Liam James), he's been relegated to the way back while his mother's (Toni Collette) new beau drives. Trent (Steve Carell) keeps a keen eye on Duncan, who doesn't make eye-contact with the man he loathes, the man who has stolen his mother's heart with his slimy used-car sales tactics. Trent thinks he's doing well, but when he asks Duncan how he would rate himself, "I don't know, a six", Trent quickly pipes back, "a three." It is crushing to be with a man who thinks so lowly of him.
Steve Carell and Toni Collette
When the family arrives, they're quickly greeted by neighbor (and constantly tipsy), Betty (Allison Janney). She's got a mouth like a sailor and a sharp tongue that constantly berates her son and his lazy eye. She's an embarrassment to all who meet her, but she doesn't see it that way. This is her time away, and more importantly, she must host the best fourth of July party in town. While Betty tries pawning her visually-challenged son off on Duncan, he's more captivated by her blossoming daughter, Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb). Yet he keeps his eyes to the ground and doesn't make a move.
Soon Duncan finds his escape at the local water park. After sneaking in through the employee entrance, Duncan is befriended by Owen (Sam Rockwell), the manager and man-child of the establishment. He spins yarns about legends on the slides, flirts with Caitlin (Maya Rudolph), and never seems to do any work. But this is his home, a place for Owen and his friends to continue being children and never take responsibility in life They return year-after-year and just can't move on to greener pastures.
Liam James and AnnaSophia Robb
Owen takes a liking to Duncan and offers him his first job. During his short tenure he quickly grows into his own personality. Duncan takes on his short-comings and his insecurities about girls, and finally makes moves, including standing up for himself and his mother.
The Way, Way Back isn't inventive and it feels familiar, sort of like the old station wagon, but it's the performances and connections that make this film a must-see. Written by Oscar winners, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (The Descendents) in their directorial debut, the film delivers a potent mixture of comedy and drama, never feeling heavy-handed or too light. Liam James delivers a wonderful lead performance, propped up by a wonderful ensemble cast. In the end, Duncan and company are not a six, but closer to a 9.