THE WAY, WAY BACK (review) THE WAY, WAY BACK Written and Directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash Starring Liam James, Toni Collette, Sam Rockwell and Steve Carrell
Trent: On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you see yourself?
We meet the young, understated hero of THE WAY, WAY BACK, Duncan, played by the also young and understated, Liam James, as he sits in the back of a station wagon, staring out at the open road that he is leaving behind himis. His mother (Toni Collette) is asleep in the front passenger seat and the man who could end up being his father (Steve Carrell), is driving the car. Trent, that’s the potential dad’s name, which in and of itself announces potential pomp, asks Duncan where he thinks he stands as a human being on a scale of 1 to 10. Duncan doesn’t want to answer but Trent pushes, badgers even. He doesn’t care what Duncan’s answer is; he just wants him to pick a number so he can get to the point he wants to make. When Duncan forces himself to come up with a number, Trent then slices that number in half and we know right there and then that wherever this car full of people is headed, it will not be a very happy place when they arrive.
As it turns out, Trent is taking his girlfriend of about a year (Collette) to his summer home in a quiet beach town, along with her son and his teenage daughter, Steph (Zoe Levin). Duncan is hesitant about the potential for this forced bonding experience, to say the least, which is what he actually says. The least, that is, as Duncan doesn’t talk much. It almost seems he doesn’t speak often because he is afraid to say the wrong thing or is just too timid to share his thoughts with others in fear of being judged. Duncan’s introverted nature is pushed to extremes by the new father figure in his life and, after one too many nights being the butt of Trent’s jokes, he starts taking off during the day and disappearing for hours. In getting lost though, he manages to surprise himself by finding his own voice in a water park. He meets a smooth-talking Sam Rockwell, who runs the park and is just mature enough to see that this boy needs a good talking to.
THE WAY, WAY BACK is the directorial debut from the Academy Award winning writers of THE DESCENDANTS, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, both of which also have small parts in the film. They do manage to capture some very real moments, as well as some very funny ones, but the subtlety with which Alexander Payne directed their last screenplay is notably lacking here. As strong as Rockwell and Carrell are in their roles here, their characters can be a bit extreme at times and the whole film can feel a bit too familiar at times as a result. Collette steals the show as a woman torn between her new man and her son; her subtle approach outshines without effortlessly. This is James’ show though and he carries this weighty summer of growth firmly on his shoulders. He needs to grow in order to protect himself from new threats that should be anything but that. This is even more difficult to accomplish considering he is surrounded by adults who seem determined to resort back into adolescence. And as Duncan comes of age, Faxon and Rash follow suit. They still have more growth ahead of them but so does Duncan and so does everyone else really.
How many sheep would you give The Way, Way Back?