Review: The Way Way Back (2013)

“You’ve got to go your own way, and you, my friend, are going your own way.”
– Owen

Duncan (Liam James) is fourteen years old and incredibly awkward. As though things are not bad enough for him, he is dragged out with his mother Pam (Toni Colette) on summer vacation to Cape Cod with her new boyfriend, Trent Ramsey (Steve Carell) and his daughter Steph (Zoe Levin). Trent is not a really nice guy, and is pretty nasty to Duncan, speaking with him in ways that can only be construed as emotional abuse, truly being cruel, mean and demeaning. Duncan sucks it up and Pam turns a blind eye. When they arrive, they are met by alcoholic like Betty (Allison Janney) and her children Susanna (Anna Sophia Robb) and Peter (River Alexander), who has a lazy eye, and they are their neighbours. Duncan is not feeling the summer vibes, and is awfully unhappy.


“I think you’re a 3! Since I’ve been dating your mom, I don’t see you putting yourself out there bud! You could try getting that score up at my beach house this summer!” – Trent

Soon they meet Kip (Robb Corddry) and Joan (Amanda Peet), a married neighbouring couple, and the two older couples spend a lot of time together. Desperate to get away from his mother and the dreadful Trent and bitchy Steph, he takes a look in the garage and finds a terribly bright and sparkly pink bike with streamers, and starts to explore the town. One day his explorations take him to a pizza place where he meets Owen (Sam Rockwell), the manager of Water Wizz, the local water park. Owen obviously has more to say than the socially awkward Duncan, and then he is gone just as fast. Duncan continues his stunted forays into trying to have conversations with Susanna while still avoiding her mother and brother, Peter. Owen discovers Duncan at the Water Wizz, and takes the dejected boy under his wing and introduces him to the rest of the staff: Caitlyn (Maya Rudolph), whom Owen is in love with though she cannot stand him and his juvenile ways, Lewis (Jim Rash), who is always threatening to leave the park, and Roddy (Nat Faxon), who mans the tube slide and is a master at getting the hot girls ready to be scoped out. By the end of the day Owen offers Duncan a job for the summer, should he wish to take it, and Duncan agrees.


“Oh, the park? Um, I’ve always been there. Ever since I was a small Cambodian child. Of course, that was after ‘Nam.” – Owen

Duncan is unhappy with his mother partying and smoking weed and all that, and finds refuge in his job at the water park. Owen is urging Duncan out of his shell more, and it seems to be working wonders for the kid and his self-esteem. Duncan is learning loads about himself, and Owen is there every step of the way, encouraging. Duncan keeps his job a secret, and is upset one night when he finds Trent in a very compromising position with Joan, and the two are too cosy, and realises that Trent has been cheating on his mother. He will not tell Pam, but sees that she works it out for herself soon enough, though it appears that she is doing nothing about it. Duncan really wants to go see his father, whom he misses a lot since his parents’ divorce. The water park keeps him busy though, and even gets him chilled out enough to start spending a little time with Susanna.


“I wish I could stay here forever.” – Duncan

Will Duncan finally break out of his shell? Will Trent continue to bully Duncan? Will Pam never step in and put her foot down to defend her son? Will Duncan even make a move on Susanna? How will Duncan feel about going home at the end of the summer now that he is starting to change and grow as a person? Will Trent continue his relationship with Joan on the side? Will Pam stand by and allow that?


“Don’t die wondering, man.” – Duncan

A solid 8.5/10 for The Way Way Back. This movie just knocked my socks off. I read so many good things about it, but was not necessarily sold on it, if you know what I mean. I am not the world’s biggest coming of age movie fan, so this was destined to be just average in my eyes, or so I thought. The movie started and instantly pulled me into the story and the characters. Liam James was so bloody well cast to play Duncan, and I think he was the perfect choice. I am a fan of Sam Rockwell, and I read a hell of a lot of good things about his performance, but damn I was not expecting what I got! He stole the show every time he made an appearance, and had me in stitches time and time again. He was just amazing to watch. Steve Carell irritated me intensely in here, but for a change not as a two bit actor. He was just such a douche, and worked on my nerves endlessly. People like that are cruel and I cannot stand them. Duncan’s borrowed little pink bike really had me laughing a whole lot. My cheeks ached by the time this was over. It was such a wonderful journey to undertake with Duncan, who is ridiculously awkward and sweet, and to watch him grow into himself a little more. It is definitely nothing new or unheard of, but it was strung together well and the story was tight, the soundtrack perfect and the camera work smooth, really making this film into something that was just fantastic! I had tons of fun with this and cannot recommend it highly enough!

40 thoughts on “Review: The Way Way Back (2013)

  1. Aw, that’s great news! I absolutely adored this film too. It is SUCH a great feel-good coming-of-age, and you’re right: it doesn’t reinvent the genre or anything but it’s just so well put-together it’s easy to overlook convention. Fantastic write-up Zoe


  2. Glad you like it so much!

    In my own review, I call this the biggest disappointment of 2013, though not because I think it bad. No. Because I think it less great than it could have been with more careful development of Trent and Allison Janney’s character.


    • Thanks James!

      I had no real knowledge of what this was prior to watching it and didn’t actually expect to enjoy it per se, just have something to watch, and instead I was swept up by it.

      I see what you mean, having wanted more from the characters!


  3. Bravo! So glad you were able to see it and even more glad that you lived it. It was in my top five of 2013. So good and really funny. Also has a lot of heart. Great review.


  4. Well…. here we are….

    I watched this over the weekend and…… I think I’m the only person in the world that didn’t like it…. : (

    I couldn’t connect – well – I hated the kid and thought he was a huge – um – well – puss. Boo Hoo you get to vacation for an entire summer on the beach and mope around? You know what I did for the summer when I was his age? I patched stucco in the California desert for five dollars an hour. LOL I’m acting like a bitch but he just irritated me the entire time and ruined the movie for me.

    Sorry about this comment.

    : )


  5. I totally agree! I feel like there were so many sequences that could have tired or predictable yet felt fresh in this movie. The dance sequence is a great example. I had such a blast with the whole thing.


  6. Good review Zoe. The material itself isn’t anything spectacular, but the cast makes it so as everybody puts in some great work. Especially Rockwell who, once again, steals the whole show from everybody around him.


  7. Hi Zoe! I just happen to catch this over the weekend, wrote a mini review of it on my roundup post. I probably would rate it a bit lower, more of a 7/10 probably, and mostly because I LOVE Rockwell here.


    • Hi Ruth! I must check out what has been going on online recently, I have been so busy sorting my studies out and payments and all I have just not had time. I had an absolute blast with this film, which I really didn’t expect!


  8. I loved this movie. Carrell as an asshole, Rockwell as the nice guy, and Anna Sophia Robb as the main love interest just worked perfectly. A comedy that actually works……rarity these days I tell ya!


  9. Good review, I’ve heard really good things too and this is another solid vote for the movie. I’ll have to find out about that borrowed pink bike, sounds hilarious, I hope to watch this sometime. 🙂


    • Thanks a lot! I really hope you come across it sometime soon and check it out, and that you like it! I had plenty of fun with this one. Definitely nothing new, but its implementation certainly kept it fresh feeling and incredibly entertaining!


  10. Another fine write-up Zoe! I didn’t expect much from this but it really surprised me. Great little film with excellent performances. Rockwell was fantastic and I was also taken by Allison Janney. She was a laugh!


    • Thank you Mark! I agree with you on that, the cast did so much with what they were given, making this an absolute blast and incredibly fresh without really bringing anything new to the table. I thoroughly enjoyed Rockwell, he had me in stitches throughout!


  11. Rockwell was excellent, as were some of the supporting performances.
    However, The Way Way Back is borderline intolerable until Rockwell shows up. Duncan isn’t an interesting protagonist and Liam James’ disastrous performance doesn’t help.

    Nice review!


  12. Yay!! Wonderful review of a wonderful movie. One of my very favorites last year. Loved it. And Rockwell was amazing! I’d have loved to see him get an Oscar nomination for this – they always ignore roles like these.


  13. Pingback: Top Ten Movies of 2013 | The Sporadic Chronicles of a Beginner Blogger

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