I loved The Way Way Back because the entire movie felt like summer. You know what kind of summer I am referring to: you have a sun-soaked crush and you have a crappy job. The best crappy job in the whole world.
This relaxed coming-of-age yarn centers on Duncan (Liam James), a shy, 14 year-old who is reluctantly whisked to his mother's boyfriend's beach house for the summer. In the opening scene, we get a glimpse into Duncan and Trent's relationship. While Duncan's mother, Pam (hello, Toni Collette) sleeps, Trent asks Duncan how, on a scale of one to ten, he sees himself. Duncan thinks he's a six, but Trent quickly responds that he's a three.
As they begin to unpack, we meet the other summer residents. Betty (Allison Janney) always has a clinky glass and a pervy comment to say. Like Duncan, her children Susanna and Peter, seem less than thrilled to be there. Duncan immediately takes to Susanna, played by AnnaSophia Robb, and slightly befriends Peter whose lazy eye is a much debated conversation between him and his mother. Amanda Peet and Rob Corddry pop up as Trent's neighbors, Joan and Kip.
Since Trent makes Duncan's life a living hell, Duncan stays away from home as much as possible. While exploring his new summer surroundings, he stumbles on Water Wizz, a water park that is right out of 1992. He befriends the park's resident man-boy, Owen, played by Sam Rockwell, and Duncan eventually begins to secretly work at the Wizz. He becomes more confident in his home life (and standing up to Trent), and we get to see a young person really begin to come into his own.
I fell in love with this movie. The characters felt real and honest, and my heart really went out to Liam James, who plays Duncan. The whole supporting cast is great (director/screenwriters Jim Rash and Nat Faxon also appear in small, funny roles), but the standout is Sam Rockwell. Rockwell's Owen is hilarious and self-assured, but not too much of a jerk. His relationship with Duncan is sweet, fun, and genuine. He's the big brother everyone would want to have. Rockwell deserves recognition for this performance.
Steve Carrell and Toni Collette are great in roles I've never really seen them in before. Collette, as Pam, is timid but doesn't want to show it. Her passiveness is something that Collette never does, but she wears it well. Carell has never played this much of a obvious jerk before. Trent is the person that Owen could have turned out to be, but Owen's heart is better. Trent always refers to Duncan as "buddy" and it just made my blood boil. Allison Janney made me howl, especially in her opening scene. I want to be her when I grow up.
Perhaps I loved The Way Way Back because I loved my summers growing up. Everything felt true.