The Way, Way Back (2013)

Just swim the angst away.

Duncan (Liam James) is at the peak of his teenage angst. He’s 14, living with his divorced mom (Toni Collette) and stuck being with her boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) for the next summer of his life. Duncan hates it at first because his mom and her boy act like teenagers again with the neighbors (Allison Janney, Amanda Peet, and Rob Corddry), but soon finds refuge in a too-cool-for-school water-park owner, Owen (Sam Rockwell). Together, they forge a relationship that makes Duncan realize that there’s more to his life than he thinks, and that there’s also the possibility of getting mingled-up with a gal-pal (AnnaSophia Robb).

Summer time is the perfect time for anybody, adult or child, to break out, do what they want, and in a way, find themselves and figure out who they truly are. Take yours truly for instance: back in the wee-bit, summer days of ’09, I was bored, I was tired, I was watching a shit-load of movies, and one thing came to my mind, “Why don’t I just write about them?” People would always tell me how funny I was when I would talk about them, and considering I didn’t have a video camera for my computer or anything, I thought, “Why the fuck not?!?” I got started on it and the rest is, as they say, history. That was all in the summer because I was bored, didn’t have much to do, and realized that I could practically do anything with my free time, even if it meant spending an extraneous amount of time in front of screens. That’s why films like these really do touch a soft-spot in the middle of my heart, because not only do I know how it feels to want to know what you can do with your life, during a time when everybody is down the beach or by the pool, getting their tans on, but I also know how it feels to discover what you want to do, at such a young age.

That’s right. Dan the Man wasn’t quite “the Man” when this all first started out, but now I’ve become one. What a youngster I once was.

Never had two, adult-men fight over me. Maybe I just haven't lived yet.
Never had two, adult-men fight over me. Maybe I just haven’t lived yet.

Anyway, what works with this flick is that everything about it feels to fit so well. The comedy is hilarious, right from the get-go; the drama is around for us to see and pay attention to, even when the movie’s being goofy; the message comes and goes as it pleases; and best of all, the feeling of summer and all of it’s positives and negatives are in the air. You can just feel it, that’s if you pay attention enough to really notice it. That’s what I liked so much about this movie, is that even though it’s a movie that touches on some real, hard-earned realities about life and how you just don’t have control over it sometimes, it still gets you happy and grinning from cheek-to-cheek because it’s summer, people are happy, people are having a good time, and people are acting like nothing else matters other than those two elements. That’s all there is to it.

But still, it’s all fun and games, and then people have to get serious, which is where this flick still continues to work and surprised me with. Honestly, going into this I thought it was going to try a bit too hard to be all goofy and nutty to get a rise out of me, which it did at times, but when it finally did get serious and start sprouting out life lessons for us all to hear, see, and connect with; the flick worked even more wonders. It’s one of those rare flicks where you can be laughing one second, tearing up the other, or hell, even both at the same time. It’s a rich screenplay that knows it’s not going to change your life or make you re-think any of your decisions for the rest of the summer, but it will make you feel a bit happier and hopeful with life, as it should. Heck, as all movies should.

That’s a true testament to the creative-skills of both Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, two guys that I didn’t think had it in them to be the least bit serious and be able to pull it off. But thankfully, I was proven wrong. Dead-wrong in fact. So rarely does that happen, and so rarely do I like to admit that it happened. Damn them.

If there’s any other reason as to why this flick works as well it does, it’s because of the amazing cast these two were able to assemble, which still makes me wonder how and when, because everybody in this flick is practically a star in their own right, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if there wasn’t at least two or three jousting battles for more camera-time. New-comer Liam James, does a fine job at giving Duncan the right amount of sympathy, teen-angst, and awkwardness that is credible for this type of character to work, and doesn’t get out-shined by the other members of the cast around him, no matter how good they are. Don’t get me wrong, he never lights up the screen or takes the camera away from any of them, but he doesn’t get shown-up either, and I think that’s the sign that we can expect to see bigger and better things from this kid. Fingers crossed, people. Toni Collette plays his mom and is good in the role because as dumb as she may be sometimes with the way she chooses Trent’s side, over her own boy’s, you still feel like she’s a nice woman that knows where her morals are and at the end of the day, won’t stop until her and her son are together, happy again.

Most people probably want to know how Steve Carell does as a bit of an a-hole, here as Trent, and does a pretty good job, because Trent isn’t the type of guy you hate and love to hate, you actually feel sort of sad for the hate you bestow onto him, as well as the character himself. Trent doesn’t seem like the type of dude that I would meet, and automatically assume that he was the biggest dick head in the world, but I would not give him another call to chill if I was around his area. Basically, he’s not a guy that you can’t fathom to be around, he’s just a guy that’s a bit too stand-offish with the way that he acts towards the ones that mean the most to him and thinks what he’s doing is right, but actually isn’t. Carell’s great in this role, as expected, but it also shows that he can do more with his despicable-traits, rather than just be a “loving asshole”. Sometimes, hell, he can just be an asshole. Plain and simple.

Bored at a dinner table filled with Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Amanda Peet, and Rob Coddry? What's wrong with that damn kid!?!?
Bored at a dinner table filled with Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Amanda Peet, and Rob Corddry? What’s wrong with that damn kid!?!?

Perhaps though, the one who really steals the spot-light from everybody in this movie is none other than Sam Rockwell himself, playing Owen, the water park owner. Rockwell is THAT actor who shows up in something, gets your attention on him right away, and makes you wonder why he isn’t a bigger-star in Hollywood. It isn’t that the guy’s got a bad-rap or chooses shitty-roles, it’s just that he never seems to be in something that’s big enough to really get his name out their for the masses. All of that talk aside, Rockwell is perfect here as Owen because he always has something witty, sarcastic, or hilarious to say, and rarely ever does or says anything serious, to anyone. However, when he does drop down the goof-ball act and gets the serious-shield up-and-running, Rockwell is even better with it and makes you feel like Owen’s not only the type of guy you want to be around, from dusk til dawn, but you want to secretly be as well. Rockwell is just oozes charm, and it gives every one of his characters a hint of “coolness” to them. Seriously, somebody in Hollywood make this guy a bona-fide star already! Jesus!

Maya Rudolph plays the object of Owen’s affection and is good using her wit and charm to win us over, just as much as she wins over Owen, but is okay in the role. It doesn’t ask for much, even though Rudolph could definitely give it. AnnaSophia Robb plays the object of Duncan’s affection and is also pretty good because you first see her is this chick apart of the popular, ditsy girls-clique, and then eventually shows more layers of herself and how she isn’t like them, and just wants to be herself and understood as well. Her and Duncan go quite well together and I wouldn’t have been surprised if that made it last past the summer. Better than any of the chicks I’ve dated, that’s for sure. And lastly, major props have to go out to Allison Janey as the constantly drunk and inappropriate neighbor that always has something funny, mean, or hurtful to say, yet, you can’t help but laugh at how clueless she is to what she’s actually saying. It’s Janey at her finest, and the gal never disappoints.

Consensus: The Way, Way Back isn’t the flick that’s going to change your life forever, but it will make you happy, sad, hopeful, and entertained by all of the excellence it has on-display from the acting, to the writing, and so on and so forth.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

These two surprisingly GET what it means to be a teen.
These two surprisingly GET what it means to be a teen.


  1. Oh damn dude, great review!! I am even more excited about this coming out now. I had a suspicion that this might be good, and I’m really interested in seeing how Carell can be a dickhead in a different type of way. (BTW, i’m hating how you are in a bigger market than me…seeing all these great films already!! 🙂 Jealous.

  2. Excellent review Dan! When Faxon and Rash won the Oscar for writing The Descendants with Alexander Payne, I kind of figured most of the work was actually Payne’s, figuring Faxon and Rash couldn’t do the heavy, dramatic material. I’m happy to admit, sounds like I was wrong; they can really do the dramatic stuff too! Can’t wait to see this, and really looking forward to more from them in the future.

  3. Terrific review Dan. I love pretty much anything Sam Rockwell does and I liked The Descendants so I’m sure I’ll like this.

  4. The film is one of the most cliche summer indie flicks out there, but I couldn’t help but enjoy it. It is specifically designed to be the Little Miss Sunshine of 2013, a Sundance darling, workshopped to death. In the end, it’s endearing and fun.

    • It totally is and for that, some of it’s met with some reservation. But the final product still is worth the watch no matter what.

  5. Great review Dan. The Way, Way Back might be my favorite film of this year so far. It’s got poignant family drama and plenty of goofy comedy, hitting that pleasant sweet spot between the two. It’s a great throwback summer flick that makes you feel nostalgic for both the good parts and bad parts of the season like you mention. I found it rough to watch in the beginning because Duncan was so awkward, but thankfully Allison Janney and Sam Rockwell’s characters carried me through until the momentum started to pick up. Rockwell steals the show for sure, with his oddball humor and his surprising ability to get serious when he needs to with Duncan and Caitlin (Rudolph). I think one of the reasons Liam James does so well with the role is that he was actually the age of his character while the film was shooting, making the material very close to home for him. I was lucky enough to interview Rash and Faxon recently about this movie and they were both really awesome guys. If you have the chance, head over to my site and check it out.

  6. Good review Dan. I agree that the cast is the best part of the film, though I wish that Maya Rudolph and Rob Cordry had more to do. Cordry, in particular, seemed so ancillary to what was going on that Amanda Peet could have been just another neighbor and the film barely would have missed a beat. Still, it’s clear that this was a labor of love from Rash and Faxon, even if I didn’t feel the same way.

  7. I cannot wait to see this film! I’m going to try and do an impromptu and awkward double feature of this and The To Do List next week.

  8. Toni Collette is the best thing to come out of Australia since the Koala Bear. I can’t see this not being in my Top 3 of the year. It’s still holding the top position as of today…and I’m getting ready for a third viewing sometime this week 🙂

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