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The Way, Way Back has the appeal which makes it seem like a beloved young adult novel adapted to screen without losing the heart and soul of the characters and story.
Review (with Spoilers)
Being that I’m a fan of AnnaSophia Robb, I felt compelled to see this film. Luckily, though, she isn’t the only recognizable name in the cast. There is Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph, Amanda Peet, and Jim Rash (Community). Also, there is the familiar face of Rob Corddry who I last saw in the movie Warm Bodies as Marcus. Altogether, the cast was really wonderful to watch and the lead Liam James was wonderfully awkward to the point that it felt like he would have been a much better choice for Charlie in Perks of Being a Wallflower than Logan Lerman.
Breaking down the characters: Collette plays James’ mom Pam who seemingly is in a relationship more to avoid being alone, than out of love. What doesn’t help is Carell’s Trent is a butt head on multiple levels. Luckily for Duncan (played by Liam James) there is Robb’s Susanna who Robb plays in her own sort of unique version of a love interest. She isn’t pining over the lead, nor is she playing games with Duncan. Robb makes this traditional role for women not seem like it was written in some lonely, often rejected, man’s head, but like someone who may have actually been friends with a girl/woman in their lifetime. As for everyone else, Janney’s Betty is a comic relief alcoholic and Rockwell’s Owen is a comic relief as well, but he also really brings the heart of the story and helps Duncan regain the confidence Trent has chipped away at.
Now, when it comes to the movie, the ensemble cast really make the story shine. Duncan is your everyday weird kid, like the one who went to your school which seemingly lived a life just trying to get through school without getting beat up or noticed. He is forced to go with his mom and her boyfriend to his beach house with his, Trent’s, daughter Stef from his last marriage. During the ride, as seen in the trailer, we establish that Trent is a butt head and he picks with Duncan on a semi-constant basis. Upon arrival to the beach house we meet Betty and Susanna, and then Peter later on. Seemingly Stef and Susanna have some type of friendship, or did, and Duncan has a slight crush on her. Oh, and let me add Stef isn’t fond of Duncan, but not as mean as her dad. From there the story goes with Duncan wandering the town just to stay out of the house and not be forced to be around his mom and Trent, much less deal with Trent constantly looking for ways to embarrass him. So, this leads to him meeting Owen and eventually working with Owen at Water Wizz. Duncan working there brings a turnaround in his life for Owen, though very sarcastic, is really the only person in the movie for quite some time which treats Duncan like a person, and not a dog which can’t control its bowels. Of course, though, Duncan’s happiness can’t last forever, so even after becoming more confident, and even getting to spend time with Susanna and getting to know her, his time at the beach house comes to an end, and Trent and his mom are the reason for the shortened vacation. Thankfully, though, the movie ends with a sweet goodbye from Susanna and a nice moment with Owen.
With this movie, I felt that I was watching a genuine story or, at the very least, a well thought out one. Duncan’s character is easily relatable and watching him drag himself through life in the hopes of finding where he belongs and finding someone who would accept him is sometimes hard to watch, but satisfying when you see him find Owen and join Owen’s sort of family. Also, between Betty and Owen, they help keep the story from being downright depressing once the drama kicks in, and their roles in the film help from the movie seemingly becoming the final days before Duncan committed suicide.
Which leads to a slight issue with the movie: Though 103 minutes, it at times feels long. I mostly attribute this to watching Duncan mope around which though valuable to the story, starts to bring you down a bit, and maybe reminds you of the less happier times in your own life. But besides that, I didn’t feel like there were any real issues a person could have with the movie.
Overall: Go See It
For me, it is hard to find movies which really seek to give a genuine portrayal of what it can be like to be a teenager. I loved that Liam James wasn’t a pretty boy type, but average looking, and though he did sort of mope through the movie, you never really felt like it wasn’t unwarranted. Also, the writers never let it get so bad for Duncan that you ended up wanting to roll your eyes, for either things got better or Betty/ Owen lightened things up. Which is also something worth mentioning: Everyone in the film seems like a real person no matter how over the top they may sometimes act. Though Duncan is the most obvious, everyone seems to be going through something and coping the best they can and though some are using better means than others, you can see by the end of the movie that everyone is at least making some type of effort to get back to the time when they were happy. Maybe that is why it is called The Way, Way Back? Everyone is trying to get to that long ago time when they were actually happy people.