Starting as it means to go on, The Way, Way Back opens with an awkward exchange between 14-year old Duncan (Liam James) and his mother’s bully-of-a-boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carrel) which ends with Duncan’s entire existence rated as 3 out of 10.
Duncan is a reclusive teenager who has been forced to spend the summer vacationing with his mother (Toni Collette), the ever nasty Trent and his superficial daughter. Duncan is the epitome of the awkward teenager and his gawkiness is only made worse by Trent’s constant belittling. He’s a lurker and seems to spend most of his life skulking around in the background trying not to be noticed, until he comes across reckless waterpark manager Owen (Sam Rockwell).
Community fans can’t fail to recognise Jim Rash (aka Dean Pelton) as downtrodden Water Wizz employee, Lewis, but Rash is also the film’s writer and director, along with pal Nat Faxon. Their story is nothing new: teenage angst, parental failure and a summer of self-discovery, but the ingenious script, fantastic cast and Instagram friendly retro charm more than make up for it.
Steve Carrel’s performance as big bully Trent is so seethingly good that it buries his good guy roles in the dust and Sam Rockwell summons a child trapped in a waterpark manager’s body to hilarious effect. Allison Janney’s uninhibited drunkenness represents for the women of the film, who are otherwise sadly neglected in a male dominated narrative.
The Way, Way Back is billed as being ‘from the studio behind’ Little Miss Sunshine which is sure to bring the film indie kudos. Although the comparison is not completely off the mark, The Way, Way Back is a more obvious comedy than Little Miss Sunshine, mostly thanks to Rockwell’s non-stop gags. Of course however, the laughs are balanced out with some regulation sentimentality that verges on the brink of corny a little too often to avoid the cringe factor.
The Way, Way Back is not the most original of movies and holds no surprises in its story. But with a great cast and a feel-good vibe, like Duncan, you may not be quite ready for the water park fun to end.