This 2013 film transcends its standard-issue coming-of-age setup. Info
Anyone who had the childhood experience of a family road trip in the way, way back of a station wagon—for the uninitiated, that's the area behind the second row of seats—knows the exhilaration of never, ever having to experience this again. Sure, it may have been fun as a little kid, but being the odd one out in the wasteland of a gas-guzzling suburban monstrosity is not anyone’s idea of a fun time. Liam James’ performance as Duncan in The Way Way Back (2013) embodies the shy-kid-who-overcomes story. While the narrative itself is pretty cliché, standout performances from an ensemble cast make this entry a winner from directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash.
Duncan’s mother (the reliable Toni Collette), has divorced his father and is in a relationship with Trent (Steve Carrell), who invites the family to his lake house for the summer. Trent’s daughter Steph (Zoe Levin) accompanies them, but she has no interest in being friendly with Duncan. Trent is domineering and horrible to Duncan, at a time when Duncan is really hurting for a positive male figure in his life. Duncan does form an unlikely bond with eternal man-child Owen (Sam Rockwell), an employee at the nearby Water Wizz water park. Duncan learns how to grow into being who he really is and stands up to his mom’s obnoxious boyfriend. Again, the narrative does not explore new territory but Duncan’s character really does have a lot of heart and evokes sympathy from the audience.
I was hoping to see a lot more from Liam James after this movie but he has not been in any major narrative features since. Toni Collette is gold in anything she touches, but this film remains buoyant thanks to its Faxon and Rash's script and deft character development. While it is a film about a teenage boy, the story itself will resound with older audiences who appreciated films like Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade (2018). —Edwanike Harbour