Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who won an academy award for co-writing The Descendents with George Clooney, bring their next project to the big screen as writers, directors, and actors. The Way Way Back tells the story of Duncan (Liam James), who is spending the summer with his mom (Toni Collette), her boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell), and his daughter, Steph (Zoe Levin). Duncan’s a typical, apathetic kid, who really doesn’t have any drives or interests. He tends to hang out around his mother’s apartment all day feeling sorry for himself. If this sounds really boring, you’re not wrong. After being dragged to Trent’s summer home, Duncan secretly gets a job at the local water park, where he befriends a quirky forty-something water park lifer, Owen (Sam Rockwell).
I was looking forward to this for a while. The trailer looked like it was going to be really good, but sadly trailers have become unreliable representations of what the movie they represent is actually going to be. They were smart; having the trailer focus on the Rockwell character, because he was a definite high point of the film. His lines were so good that after a while I felt like they must have all been improvised because it was impossible to believe that they came from the same script that cranked out the rest of these flat, uninteresting characters.
Maybe the strangest performance in the film is from Allison Janney. She basically plays the same role she did in Sam Mendes’ Away We Go, but with even less subtext and subtlety. She drinks, and embarrasses her children, and shamelessly flirts with any man in the immediate area.
There are some interesting themes at play here, with all of the adult characters struggling to recapture their youth, but a lot of the characters’ motivations are no more complicated than being afraid to age. The one character who manages to pull this off in a somewhat believable way is Toni Collette’s character Pam. She’s afraid of being alone, and even though Trent is arrogant, and passive aggressive, she manages to look past his faults because she thinks it’s her last chance to be with someone. Collette plays all of this very well, and I wish she had more screen time.
I really like Jim Rash as an actor. His tenure as the Dean on NBC’s Community is consistently hilarious, and I thoroughly enjoyed his performance here as the germophobic Lewis. It’s a character that isn’t quirky for quirky’s sake, and maybe the only character in the piece (including Owen) who doesn’t feel over-written.
Special features include several making of featurettes, and deleted scenes. Available on DVD and Blu-ray from 20th Century Fox.