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The Way Way Back– Movie Review

Submitted by on July 24, 2013 – 5:03 pmNo Comment

Ah, the summer beach movie. Girls, crazy adventures, and probably a bonfire with a song. But not here. The Way Way Back, the first film from writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash since they shared an Oscar (with Alexander Payne) for The Descendants is slow and formulaic at times, but it offers an enlightening twist on a classic sub-genre. Told from the eyes of an awkward loner, this is the movie about the summer beach vacation that sucks.

Adolescent Duncan (Liam James) is stuck going to a beach house with his mom (Toni Collette), mom’s jerk boyfriend (Steve Carell), and the boyfriend’s snotty daughter for the summer. While enduring cringe-worthy awkwardness confronting obnoxious popular girls and horny, drug-addled adults, Duncan finds refuge secretly getting a job at a local water park. Manager Owen (Sam Rockwell) becomes friend and role model for Duncan, propping him up as Duncan’s mother’s latest relationship falls apart.

There’s a very clever metaphor for adolescence in the setting. Duncan is caught in between places and stages of his life: the natural, adult hedonism of the beach, and the controlled fun and kitsch of the water park. As supportive and enjoyable as the water park is, the movie makes clear it is a place of unnaturally stunted growth. Owen gets a good dressing-down after his antics cross the line, as his love interest tells him they could never be together due to his inability to grow up. Though Owen and the water park are so clearly preferable to the lies and neglect of the beach, the film does not sugarcoat the trade-offs of such a life. Owen’s frank confession to Duncan of the struggles to stay afloat working menial jobs, after a lifetime of rebelling against a controlling father-figure, is heartbreaking.

Unfortunately, the movie could have benefited from some of Owen’s advice to Duncan: make the conversation shorter. Though well under two hours, the movie drags, especially as it repeatedly emphasizes the horrors of Duncan’s awkwardness, and the quirkiness of Owen’s rambling jokes.

Did you see The Way Way Back? What did you think?

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