Declaring itself to be from the same studio that made Little Miss Sunshine and Juno, The Way Way Back comes with the credence of uber-cool indie film making.
The film centres on 14-year-old Duncan (James) having to deal with his mum’s new overbearing boyfriend Trent (Carrell) and his daughter Steph (Levin) while on their summer vacation. He just doesn’t fit into their new lives – but one day he makes a new friend in Owen (Rockwell), the manager of Water Wizz, the local water park. Duncan gets a job at the park, and soon he comes out of his teenage shell, yet back home he is still expected to say and do nothing while the adults have their fun.
The adult cast list for The Way Way Back is simply to die for, with some of the greatest indie film and TV stars of recent years – Collette, Corddry, Janney, Peet and Rudolph. Yet they are all eclipsed by James's performance in the lead role. We see this kid slowly blossom into a full-grown adult in front of our eyes, only to feel his pain when he returns to the family home and ceases to exist outside of meal times. James’s performance is eerily reminiscent of Paul Dano’s in Little Miss Sunshine; his ability to not function without some encouragement from the most strange of places and people. Hopefully James’s career will follow a similar upward path as Dano’s, because he deserves it after this wonderful performance.
Also, Rockwell delivers another brutally sharp and sarcastic performance that is a constant joy to watch. His natural ability to switch from serious to deadpan is a pleasure to see. His role as a kind of surrogate parent in The Way Way Back really makes me hope he will adopt me one day.
The coming-of-age storyline has been done many times before and there aren’t really any twists that can’t be seen coming. Instead, The Way Way Back shines due to performances from every single person in it. This is heartfelt and hilarious to its core – there is much to enjoy here.
EXTRAS ★★★ The Blu-ray exclusive making-of featurette Behind The Scenes With the Hilarious Cast & Filmmakers (31:19); three deleted scenes (3:02); and the three-part Theatrical behind The Scenes featurette: Tour of the Water Park (3:22), The Filmmakers Jim and Nat (3:16), and Ensemble Featurette 4:34).