Everyone says your teen years are difficult, the most difficult in your life. You go through that awkward stage that clinically is called “puberty” but realistically is you figuring out that the person you were born as is the same person you will be in 10, 20, 30 years. In some ways that news can be depressing in other ways it can be up-lifting. I’ll ask you the same question that was asked at the beginning of this film, but I’d like you to put yourself in the mindset of your 14 year old self. On a scale of 1-10 what are you? Now hold that until the end of this review.
From the same production house as Juno and Little Miss Sunshine comes The Way Way Back. This indie film is about a young boy, Duncan (Liam James), that is 14 on a “family” vacation, invited to a beach house owned by his mother’s overbearing/jackass boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell). Like most indie films it is never what is on the surface that is the center of the film, it’s about what the whole film looks like and emotes from you. This film spends its time focusing not on the adults and their interactions with Duncan but Duncan’s reactions to conversations and remarks made to him by those adults. It is definitely an interesting perspective to see.
This movie struck a chord with me on this level because it showed a reality, that being a teenager sucks, it isn’t a time you look back on fondly when you are older (I’m 22 but I still haven’t looked back and thought “oh to be 14 again”). It is refreshing to see a film with a central character that’s a teenager where their most urgent issue is not centered around having the love and affection of the character opposite them. As with all great self-discovery films there is a mentor of some sort that helps guide the character in the right direction, and in this film that character is embodied in a sarcastic, easy-going, lovable water-park manager Owen, played by Sam Rockwell. Rockwell’s behavior and acting in this film are endearing, you see that his character is really someone who identifies with Duncan and can see back to that age and remembers what it’s like to be that struggling kid.
Please don’t regard this film as a drama that will have you weeping and sad when you leave, it isn’t. Rockwell makes sure of that, especially when paired with Maya Rudolph. This is a comedy, it is meant to make you laugh. Just because puberty wasn’t fun doesn’t mean it wasn’t funny. This is a sentimental summer film, it leaves you thinking. So if you were planning on sitting down and just watching some story that isn’t going to happen. I know I left the theater discussing my younger days with a friend. Remembering what made me into the awkward, nerdy movie reviewer that I am now and that was good it was a nice conversation to have to remember where you’ve been and how you got here to the moment you are in right now.
Overall, I really did enjoy the film, the acting is very good especially from Rockwell, James and Carell (it’s also extremely fantastic to see him playing a character you hate and not the awkward comedic male he usually is). The one thing I will say that is a little strange is that I have a hard time identifying an audience for the film, it isn’t a family movie, or a date night movie but maybe a film that you see as a means to remind yourself of the past. Or, to see what it was like to be the one sitting in the way way back of the car and not knowing which way you were going. Or maybe just maybe to remind yourself that the number you said in the beginning, is not the same as the number you are now.