When you’re young the concept of being comfortable in your own skin doesn’t exist, rather separated into two categories— cool and uncool. For adults, although the idea of confidence is more ingrained, it becomes harder to grasp. By 40 the world has had its way with you and adults have become shells of their former idyllic selves.
In The Way Way Back the conflicting nature of adulthood and childhood collide when Duncan (Liam James of The Killing) and his family stay in a beach house for the summer. On the ride there Trent, Duncan’s mothers boyfriend (Steve Carell) asks Duncan to rate himself between 1-10 and Duncan replies with a 6. Trent feels the need to remind Duncan that he is indeed a 3 and treats him as such throughout the film. Once the family reaches the beach house it’s as if they have entered into a distorted version of Neverland, where the adults smoke pot, drink, stay out all night, and the children end up having to pick up the pieces.
Fed up with the behavior of his Mother (Toni Collette) and Trent, Duncan ends up getting a job at the local water park, where a confidence he never knew existed emerges. Duncan ends up bonding with his own version of the lost boys at the water park, led by its manager Owen (Sam Rockwell) who, absorbed in his own form of nostalgia, understands that life and responsibility have somehow passed him by. Yet unlike his other adult counterparts, Owen is content with his status in life and remains focused on the corky aspects of life rather than the big picture.
The highlights of the film include Alison Janney’s performance as a waked-out mother reminiscent of her Drop Dead Gorgeous performance, and River Alexander as her son Peter, who has a lazy eye and owns it. Janney’s character insists that Peter wears an eye patch because people are going to be freaked out by his appearance, but Peter won’t have it! Peter is like the kid down the block who talks to himself and wears a Superman cape, what the world thinks of him is of no consequence.
The Way Way Back was written by Jim Rash and Nat Faxon who also starred in the film and recently won an Academy Award for writing The Descendants. This is a funny film with good performances, but the shitty boyfriend bit has been done an incredible amount of times, and the adults behaving badly scenarios are a bit trite at times. What brings this movie to life is the romance that childhood and summertime conjure up— getting the ultimate packman score, swimming until your skin prunes, and receiving your first paycheck. It also invokes the loneliness associated with those awkward teenage years when you have left the Superman cape behind and replaced it with a veil of self-loathing. The Way Way Back is corky and not for a World War Z or Superman type of movie going audience, but it has the legs that may produce cult status.