The Way, Way Back
Starring Sam Rockwell, Liam James, and Steve Carrell.
Word is spreading fast about the pleasant surprise for 2013 summer moviegoers. In a season filled with superhero explosive-laden sequels and reboots, the new beach house dramedy The Way, Way Back could easily be the best movie of the summer. To effectively fill in the characters of an ensemble this large requires a well-written script and, once again, Jim Rash and Ned Haxton have delivered. When they last co-wrote a screenplay they won an Oscar for it – 2011’s The Descendants. This time, Rash and Haxton not only wrote the script, they co-directed the movie and wrote minor roles in it for themselves.
Going against the grain of his typically likeable but slightly pathetic character, Steve Carell plays Trent, an anal-retentive philanderer who harasses his girlfriend’s son Duncan (Liam James) during a trip to his beach house. Duncan is as comfortable as a fish in the sand while visiting Trent’s house at the beach, and it’s not until he finds water at the park named Water Wizz that Duncan begins to come into his own.
Sam Rockwell—who as Owen carries the emotional heart of this movie—seems born for this role of the wise cracking Peter Pan manager at Water Wizz, a park that wouldn’t operate at all without the efforts of Caitlin (Maya Rudolph). Haxton and Rash are also employed at this park, and it is to his new job there Duncan escapes daily, slowly coming to like himself and gaining the vision to see that all is not right with Trent.
Allison Janney and Toni Collette bring their talents to the movie, and AnnaSophia Robb, last seen as the surfer mutilated by a shark in the 2011 movie Soul Surfer, provides Duncan with his summertime crush. Water Wizz is an actual water park in Marshfield, Massachusetts, and the park is sure to see higher flip-flop traffic with this movie. The park helps Duncan with some major adolescent lessons, and as he learns them, Owen and Caitlin move toward becoming a couple. They in turn give Duncan the only example of adults in love he has ever seen. If this movie sounds to you like one made for the out-of-school crowd at the movies on a rainy day, well, as I said, you’re in for a pleasant surprise.
I argued in an earlier Sandbox article that The Dependents should have easily won Best Picture over the silent film The Artist. The screenwriters gave The Way, Way Back the same ineffable quality, and you’ll enjoy this movie far more than any of the C.G.I. speed-edits vying for our cinematic dollars.
Being the marketable force he is gives Steve Carell top billing on the poster. But make no mistake – Sam Rockwell is the star. The poster depicts Duncan underwater, with the number 3 on the side of pool, and the large cast of the film above the waterline. This 3 is significant. As the movie nears its wrap, Owen tells Duncan’s Mom, “You got a good kid here,” and we leave the story with Duncan and his mother sitting next to each other, in Trent’s station wagon, on the seat in the way, way back.