We’ve been highlighting this all-star indy for a month (Win a Water Wizz staff shirt here), and thankfully, it’s been worth the wait. Written by Jim Rash and Nat Faxon (Oscar winning The Descendants scribes, and fellow The Groundlings alum along with Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig), The Way, Way Back marks another ‘slightly skewed perspective’ family drama from the duo, this time focusing on a younger generation, but with the same bittersweet-nostalgic sense of humor.
Liam James portrays Duncan, the 14 year old at the center of the story. Steve Carell plays his mother’s new boyfriend, Trent, who takes this make-shift family to his beach house for the summer. Like in The Descendants, Carell’s character is a villain, but also only human. He’s a charismatic Don Juan, but deeply flawed, and unable to help himself – though he tries. In a fit of frustration and angst, Duncan flees the summer nest each day, and eventually finds his way to Water Wizz, a real life New England water park in East Wareham, Massachusetts, where the film was shot. Summer antics ensue, realities must be confronted, and life lessons are learned, and that’s the bulk of the story. The value comes from the skillful writing and excellent performances.
The dialogue in the film is pitch perfect, taking real world family drama and refining into something evocative without being over the top. The cast is uniformly superb, however Steve Carell plays his character with razor sharp perfection, while Allison Janney and Sam Rockwell deserve special recognition for their infectiously likeable, sometimes “laugh-out-loud funny” characters, who deliver many of the best lines. James should also be acknowledged for handling some weighty drama extremely well, especially notable considering he was 16 during filming, unlike so many films where 20-somethings are used in teenage roles. Most viewers should easily identify with many of the characters and situations, and empathize with how simple yet unresolvable these conflicts can be.
While some of the humor is clichÃ© and some situations mundane, The Way, Way Back is a straightforward yet infectiously likeable coming of age comedy/drama elevated by especially good performances from a stellar cast.