The Way, Way Back Review: What A True Summer Movie Feels Like

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Amidst the superheroes, robots, and TV revivals, summer movies look to have a new expectation, indie coming-of-age stories.

It’s a cliche that hasn’t even come close to wearing out its welcome, especially when movies like The Way, Way Back are this good.

Featuring a well known cast, who all deliver, and an unknown young actor as the awkward teenager, this film had so much potential to step too far into the new indie cliche.

Yet somehow the story of Duncan (Liam James) is incredibly personal and heartfelt, the very foundation that the coming-of-age subgenre was built on. I bet the writers did in fact go to some summer house with their mom and her despicable boyfriend. I bet they did hate it at first but eventually found a place in this vacation home.

While the young James is hardly a capable enough actor to invoke what it’s like to be an awkward teenage, the well rounded cast surrounding him all play pivotal roles in how this boy may or may not find himself by the end.

Toni Collette is hardly a new choice to play the sweet mother. She did it so well in The Sixth Sense and Little Miss Sunshine, and she does it well again here.

Steve Carell, who won over the hearts of countless TV viewers on The Office, is the douche-y new boyfriend. He plays it with such an evil sting, yet feels incredible natural to life.

His foil, the man who shows Duncan how to fit in, is hilariously played by Sam Rockwell, who just continues to be so damn likable in every role he gets. His relationship with Duncan is the emotional core of the film.

But while the cast is all doing top-notch work the real catch of the film is its setting.

Granted, I may be a bit biased. I grew up on the Jersey Shore, and not the version MTV would have you believe is fact (even if it sometimes is). The version I’m more familiar with is this one. Beach houses, outdoor burger joints on every corner, people riding bikes everywhere, and, perhaps most accurately, the drunk adults living a year long vacation.

This movie was filmed entirely in Massachusetts, but it certainly felt like home to me. The characters even seem to share the love/hate relationship one has with this type of community. On one hand Allison Janney’s boozy, spring-breaking single mother, who steals every scene she’s in, feels the most real to life. On another Duncan’s fish out of water attitude feels just as real. It’s a remarkable feet just how well the essence of one of these towns has been captured here. I simultaneously felt homesick and so glad to be where I am.

I can’t promise this film will have the same effect if you didn’t have the same experience, but it’s certainly worth a shot.

Either way, I do really love this film. It has some very clear flaws. The main protagonist isn’t quite accessible as many other coming-of-age stars. The ending is a bit jarring. But ultimately, The Way, Way Back was a much better, and more personal vacation than any other movie this summer. Grade: A-

By Matt Dougherty


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