Liam James stars (in the Chris Makepeace role) as Duncan, an introverted 14-year-old, who’s dragged along when his well-meaning mom (Toni Collette) and her asshat boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell, in a nicely smarmy turn) decide to spend the summer at Trent’s beach house. Desperate to get away from the adults, Duncan seeks refuge at Water Wizz, a local water park seemingly stuck in the 1980s. There, he meets Owen (Sam Rockwell, adopting the Bill Murray role), an irreverent man-boy, who’s funny, charming, immature and lovable.
When Owen offers sad-sack Duncan a job at the park, things start to pick up and Duncan begins coming out of his shell. Meanwhile, the dynamics of the adults in his life begin to shift when old friends – including Amanda Peet, Rob Corddry and a fantastic Allison Janney, who plays the world’s most entertaining boozehound/floozy – enter the picture.
Nicely nuanced and superbly executed by co-writers and co-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (who both also co-star as water-park staffers), The Way Way Back (like Meatballs) does a wonderful job of balancing the ridiculousness with the subtly poignant. As clichéd as it sounds, this is a movie (like Meatballs) that made me laugh and made me cry.
Credit goes, as well, to the brilliant cast, each of whom crafts a rich, engaging character filled with colour. Rockwell has never been more likeable, and Carell’s jerk marks a nice change for the usually amiable actor. James, like Makepeace, is a perfect fit in his role, making Duncan simultaneously endearing (you just want to hug the kid!) and surprising.
Now, as mentioned, the blueprint for this film was drafted up some 34 years ago – the awkward kid who finds his place among a fun and wacky group of grown-ups, and comes out of his shell to overcome his obstacles as a result – but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining or heartwarming to watch. Amid all the sturm und drang of the summer blockbusters, this is a sleeper well worth checking out.
Anyone who grew up with a nearby water park to pass lazy summer days will appreciate the nuances of The Way Way Back. Special features include a tour of said water park, interviews with the cast and crew, an intro to the directing team, and storyboards of scenes from the film. There are also deleted scenes and a trailer.