The Way Way Back is the back row in an old station wagon, the one that sometimes faced the rear. It is not a place of honor. The way, way back is where Duncan (Liam James) is relegated when he heads off to the beach for the summer with his mother, Pam (Toni Collette), her overbearing boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell), and his daughter, Steph (Zoe Levin).
The first scene of the movie is poignant and powerful, the trailer captures just a hint of it’s awkwardness and cruelty. Duncan arrives at the beach house knowing he does not fit into this world and with little hope that he will enjoy his summer. But he finds a place where he fits in, an aging local water park.
This story isn’t new, but some of the best stories are the ones that are familiar to us, and this one was ably and beautifully told by the film. It started with a great script but was executed well both in direction and acting. It was fantastic to see Steve Carrell playing such a different character. I’m beginning to be convinced he’s a much better actor than comedian. Toni Collette is always marvelous, and as much as I wanted to hate her character at times, she made a difficult role sympathetic. Sam Rockwell, Nat Faxon and Maya Rudolph were all terrific as staff at the water park and their scenes gave the film the levity it needed. There was a small shout-out to Memphis in one of those scenes that made the theater roar with delight during the screening I attended.
When you are in the way, way back, there’s no place to go but up. The ending to this film doesn’t tie up every loose end, but it left me thoughtful, happy, and looking forward to seeing what Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (who co-wrote and co-directed The Way Way Back) will come up with next.
4/5 stars | Rated PG-13 | Now playing in select cities, opening everywhere July 26 | view the trailer on YouTube