UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Ask Bobby #12
September 25, 2023

“The Way, Way Back” is a Must-See

On the way to the beach
On the way to the beach

Well-written, perfectly casted, and hilarious, “The Way, Way Back” may be one of the best films of the summer. 
Written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who both won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay with “The Descendents,” the film is about Duncan, a shy and awkward teenager played by Liam James. Duncan is spending the summer at a beach house with his mother, Pam (Toni Collette), her boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell), and Trent’s daughter Steph (Zoe Levin).
The tone of the movie is established in the very first scene during the drive to the beach house. While Pam and Steph sleep, Trent asks Duncan, who is sitting in the way back of the station wagon in a seat that faces the back window, what he rates himself on a scale from one to ten. Duncan, baffled by the question, unconfidently replies “six.” Trent shoots back with his opinion that Duncan is more of a “three.” 

Not wanting to be around Trent, Duncan bikes around the town and finds solace at a water park and in the owner Owen, played hilariously by Sam Rockwell.  Instead of finding a family with his mom’s boyfriend and his daughter, Duncan finds a family in the group of characters at the water park.

Though the plot is a typical coming of age story and predictable, “The Way, Way Back” stands on its own because of great dialogue and characters. It would be difficult to pick which actor played their character best. Both Sam Rockwell as the stream-of-consciousness, fast-talking, silly Owen, and Allison Janney, who played the beach house neighbor with no filter, stole every scene they were in.
Steve Carell plays a great jerk, but James’ performance as Duncan is uncanny. The awkward teen has been done before, but James’s performance is so convincing that viewers may cringe in their seats or cover their faces with embarrassment during Duncan’s painfully awkward moments. His transformation from an introverted teen to a confident young man doesn’t feel forced but natural, which is a testament to James’s acting and Faxon’s and Rush’s directing.
Maya Rudolph also gives a stand-out performance as Caitlin, and Faxon and Rush nailed their bit parts as employees at the water park.
The film doesn’t use special effects or cheap laughs to keep viewers glued to the screen. Instead, “The Way, Way Back” entertains and enthralls viewers with a combination of great writing, directing, and acting.
Make the effort to go see this simple and funny timeless coming of age story told through film at Loews Boston Common, or the Kendall Square Cinema, if you want to support your local independent theater.