Starring Liam James as Duncan, a gawky, alienated teenager who might as well have been kidnapped by his mother’s new boyfriend, endures a summer amongst the shallow and immature of all ages. The title comes from Duncan’s seat in the boyfriend’s old station wagon, the way way back. This also represents his place in this group, that might become a family – way, way on the margins.
With Steve Carell as Trent, the jerky boyfriend, Toni Collette as Pam the doormat girlfriend/mother, The Way Way Back shows a society where most adults are clueless, self-absorbed, lost drinkers. The film adroitly mixes comedy and pathos. The strength of the film is the banter of Owen (Sam Rockwell), the manager of a nearby water park and Betty, (Alison Janney) the loud, drinking neighbor who has no qualms about inviting herself to any party and who has no idea how or why to keep a secret. Both Rockwell and Janney are terrific and get all the best lines. Owen’s cursed with Peter Pan syndrome avoidance, but blessed with a sense of decency and an ability to notice Duncan’s needs and reach out to Duncan, whose been forced to spend a summer with Trent who tells Duncan that on a scale of 1 to 10, he’s a 3.
The scenes at Trent’s summer house are painful. Trent’s a jerk, Duncan’s mother contents herself with her low status in the circle of friends and Trent’s daughter is a beautiful, unhappy teenage queen bee. No wonder Duncan escapes to the rundown water park, where real fun and ironically a bit of wisdom can be found.
I enjoyed the film as much as the summer house cliques made me want to cringe. Though it’s sent in our era, I kept thinking, this would be better set in the ’70s or ’80s as it could have a better sound track. Also, the characters seem like they belong in the pre-smart phone days. Some plot lines didn’t make sense because problems would have been solved by calling someone. Also, I never bought that all these characters would stay at their summer homes all summer long. Pam is a caterer. While she could take off as long as she wanted, wouldn’t she get calls for fall parties? I know she was supposed to be a doormat, but even doormat’s have experiences and responsibilities worth including.
Trent and the other men’s jobs aren’t specified. In my experience the men come up to the summer homes on the weekends or for one full week. Here they seem to be there all summer long.
I wish Pam’s character was more fleshed out. It was also very weird how she would be attracted to a father who was so obviously indifferent to his daughter. They rarely spoke to each other and a perceptive woman would notice that and care. Yet Pam doesn’t.