Dear The Way Way Back,
I come to you with higher hopes than I have had in a long time for an unknown quantity, with “coming of age,” “highly recommended” and “I saw it twice in the theater” being the bulk of the early feedback. After all, I spent time with Ginger & Rosa and The Perks of Being a Wallflower in the last six months and was excited at the prospect of something similar.
When you start things off with ‘where do you rate yourself on a scale of one to ten’ conversation with the brilliantly cast Liam James as Duncan its instantly apparent that Steve Carell as the overbearing Trent is going to be just one in a long line of painful and awkward moments in a summer from hell specially set-up for our 14-year-old slightly dorky but immensely likable protagonist!
As mom, boyfriend, Duncan, and boyfriend’s older teen daughter arrive at the anywhere beach vacation house, we meet the next door neighbor divorcee and it’s let the quirk commence! Part of the greatness of this film is its casting. Allison Janney as the caricature Betty gives almost a manic stand up show that steals the beginning of this film and is the harbinger for all the wonderful things to come. She is drinking and she is schmoozing and she is stirring up innuendo like a whirl wind does dust in the desert and it is charming and funny as hell.
Alas, for Duncan he just gets shuffled around and when it appears his fate cant be anymore awkward or painful he busts out and takes the old daughter’s pink banana seat girls bike from the garage, (to which my companion reflects, “now that takes balls”) and strikes out for anywhere else. This is when he meets the film’s central kook Owen, (played flawlessly by Sam Rockwell.) Owen is the manager of the local water park and is immature, funny and as off-handedly cool as he can be. When Owen takes Duncan under his wing and hires him to work at the park, its hi-jinks time.
Of course Sam Rockwell makes all that completely entertaining and along the way Betty’s sweet teen daughter Susanna, (handled deftly by AnnaSophia Robb of Bridge to Terabithia fame,) warms up to him and finds his blossoming something she wants to be a part of. When the film ends with one last stunt at the water park in front of his mom and the whole community, it’s as real as it is heart warming. Everyone is stellar and it puts a smile on my face.
Whenever I need that slice of summer and am nostalgic for that way way back, I will come see you and revel in it every time!
Fare thee well, you instant classic!