Way Way Poster

Let me ask you something: on a scale of 1-10, what do you think you are?

No one wants to answer that question. Especially when the question is being asked by your mom’s asshole boyfriend and you’re an insecure, insanely awkward 14-year-old like Duncan. But that’s the uncomfortable way the The Way Way Back kicks off.

Named for the third, outward-facing “way back seat” in a station wagon, The Way Way Back utilizes this seemingly innocuous seat as an interesting frame for an innocent coming of age tale. And it is a fucking phenomenal, heartwarming story.

If you don’t like The Way, Way Back, then I question whether or not you have a soul.

Even the tagline—“We’ve All Been There”—is perfect. At some point in our lives, we’ve all been as awkward and uncomfortable as Duncan. If you’ve never been in that position, then The Way Way Back will make you feel like you have, which is quite an accomplishment by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash—the writers and directors of this delightful effort.

In the opening scene, you get a glimpse of the half-hearted relationship between Duncan and Trent (his mom’s dickish boyfriend, played by Steve Carell) as this tenuously tied together “family” unit heads to a small beach town for summer vacation. Duncan feels so alone and separate from everyone else that he’s actually physically segregated just lifelessly watching everything pass by while in the way back seat.

On the surface, everything seems alright. But you don’t have to look very deep to see the dysfunction.

Instead of serving as a stable father figure, Trent is seemingly just putting up with Duncan in order to get closer to his mom, Pam—a recent divorcee played by Toni Collette, who looks like a slightly uglier Uma Thurman. Pam is clueless and comes off more concerned with her own happiness than that of her son. Once they arrive at Trent’s beach house, the discord between everyone becomes more defined.

Don’t mistake The Way Way Back as a dull, drab drama.


Liam James is a very believable sad sack as Duncan, but there is plenty of comic relief and a superb supporting cast. Trent’s neighbors Betty (played by Allison Janney) and her son Peter (played by River Alexander) are outstanding, outlandish characters. You really feel for Duncan because he’s a fish out of water with nowhere to turn.

Luckily, Duncan finds a pretty pink bike with a basket and tassels inside the beach house garage so he can finally gain some freedom and venture out on his own. But he doesn’t even know what to do with it. Duncan’s first trip is to a pizza joint where an encounter with Owen (played by Sam Rockwell) changes his life forever—even if it is just a fleeting moment before the Water Whizz staff has to return to work.

A day later, Duncan seeks out the Water Whizz waterpark, but he just sits at a bench by himself while avoiding any type of social interaction. It’s a move I’m all too familiar with because I used to just stand off by myself during lunch recess when I was in junior high. Duncan is so withdrawn and socially unaware, but Owen spots him at the park and seemingly makes it his mission to break Duncan’s bubble.


Sam Rockwell is perfect. Liam James is perfect. And the writing cleverly utilizes Duncan as the straight man for Sam Rockwell’s completely over-the-top performance as Owen. I’m not surprised in the slightest that Sam Rockwell allegedly got into a little trouble after improving a herpes joke over the loud speaker with children around while filming. Sam Rockwell is his Sam Rockwell-iest in this movie. As a gigantic Sam Rockwell fan, I fucking loved it and felt like it was a much-needed uplifting aspect to help balance out the heavy, emotional scenes that come later on.

The Way Way Back would have been great if the entertainment value came solely as a result of the interaction between Duncan and Owen. But this movie is so much more. It has a heart and it’s unafraid to put it on full display when the situation is called. The teenage angst is palpable between Owen and his neighbor’s daughter Susanna (played by AnnaSophia Robb, who has a dash of Lindsay Lohan in her face).

While the acting is absolutely flawless, I enjoyed the writing just as much. The decision to make the summer crush angle secondary to the relationship between Duncan and Owen was just genius. At this stage in his life, Duncan needed a father figure and a true friend, and Owen provides that and more as Sam Rockwell is dishing out life lessons left and right.

If I have one complaint about The Way Way Back, it would be about the ending, which is slightly lackluster and underwhelming. But I can forgive that because those last few scenes that set-up the final shot are just perfect because they’re touching and real. The Way Way Back could have been another cookie-cutter, summer vacation type of comedy.


It’s a true credit to Nat Faxon and Jim Rash for hitting so many notes with authentic character development. I’ve always remembered Nat Faxon for his role in the Holiday Inn commercial where he touches Joe Buck’s throat while he says “swing and a miss” and Jim Rash has always been the guy from Reno 911! with a dildo strapped on his head.

But no more! I’m genuinely excited for their next project, and you should be too after you watch The Way Way Back. If you’re like me and missed this when it was in theaters, please seek this out from wherever you can find it. It’ll be much more enjoyable than watching Delivery Man—the watered down American remake of Starbuck—or watching the fucking awful Thor sequel.

With nothing worthwhile currently in theaters, don’t make any excuses for not watching The Way Way Back, which goes its own way.

5 out of 5 stars

  1. I fell in love with this movie.

  2. […] The Way Way Back (soliloqueue.wordpress.com) […]

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