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The Way, Way Back - Review

The Way Way Back

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

HAVING delivered an Oscar calibre script for George Clooney’s The Descendants, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash now reunite to write and direct coming-of-age comedy-drama The Way, Way Back with similarly engaging results.

But while their former picture dealt with loss and a parent coming of age in often pensive, downbeat fashion, The Way, Way Back focuses on a shy teenager who is forced to grow up and find himself during a summer vacation.

Like The Descendants it’s also blessed with a great ensemble cast, from Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney and Maya Rudolph in supporting roles, to young newcomer Liam James and – of particular note – Sam Rockwell as the film’s two leads.

The plot picks up as shy teen Duncan (James) is forced to spend the summer by the beach with his mother (Collette) and her despicable new boyfriend (Carell), prompting him to find a job at a local water park in a bid to get away from it all.

It’s here that he meets man-child Owen (Rockwell) who, sensing a kindred spirit and someone in need of a little support, mentors him in the way of living life to the full and finding love, which subsequently arrives in the form of his beach house neighbour Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb).

To be fair, Faxon and Rash aren’t offering up anything vastly different from countless other coming-of-age movies (from Adventureland to Say Anything) but the devil is in the details and they have a keen eye for crafting beautifully drawn relationships.

Hence, the central one between Rockwell and James is deliciously played, with Rockwell oozing charisma and walking away with just about every scene he’s in. In fact, the movie only really finds its feet when he is introduced but – just like the ray of sunshine he brings to Duncan’s life in the film – he illuminates the picture as a whole.

Rockwell has lit up many a movie over the years and Faxon and Rash have found another vehicle to play to his strengths. Indeed, it’s during Duncan’s time with Owen that audiences are even able to warm to the teenager, who had hitherto threatened to become a little bit of an underwhelming presence.

That’s not to say the film isn’t without flaws. The first 30 minutes or so are a long slog through dysfunctional family comedy-drama that offers up one too many dislikable characters – it’s a stretch to believe that Collette’s sensitive mum could ever have found anything to like in Carell’s boyfriend (although it’s good to see him playing against type as the movie’s villain of the piece), while Allison Janney’s loud-mouthed neighbour is just plain annoying.

The plot beats, too, are fairly formulaic in the way that Duncan is able to find himself via an inspirational mentor figure and find love against the odds. But given the way the film unfolds in such light and breezy fashion whenever it’s in Rockwell’s company, you may well be enjoying yourself too much to notice.

Hence, for all its flaws and predictability, The Way, Way Back still manages to emerge as effortlessly enjoyable in the process.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 103mins
UK Release Date: August 28, 2013