There is no shortage of coming-of-age films that chronicle the difficult time in a boy or girl’s life when they have to face the realities of everything around them, and start to carve out their own path. Scrolling through Netflix, there are literally dozens of these types of films, and it can be difficult to sort through them, to separate the strong from the weak.
The Way Way Back tells the story of Duncan, an awkward teen who is forced to spend the summer up at a beach house with his mother and her new boyfriend, played very well by Toni Collette and Steve Carell (who has become increasingly good at playing a jerk as his career progresses). Duncan meets the quirky locals that make up the summer families and friends that the area has to offer. He meets the cute neighbor girl, played by Anna Sophia Robb, but can’t seem to get any traction with her. He is stuck in his place, forced to watch as his life unfolds before him.
Eventually, Duncan sneaks away to a water park, where he ends up secretly working for the summer. Here, he is able to make friends with a fun-loving group of characters, led by the eccentric manchild Owen, played to a T by Sam Rockwell, and reminding us why we used to love Sam Rockwell.
At the water park, Duncan feels like he belongs for the first time, and he goes through the process of growing up, and starting to turn into the person that he will truly become. The Way Way Back is a sweet story backed with a very strong secondary cast. They truly bring life to their characters, for all the quirks, failures, and foibles that they may have. Together, this group is able to push Duncan on his journey to self-discovery.
The Way Way Back isn’t terribly different from other films in this genre. In fact, the summer house or water park/pool idea seems to be used quite frequently. But it works. The summer is a time of loss and confusion for teens, stuck between school years, and forced to grow up and develop in order to take on the next challenges that will come by in their lives. And they need to do it while being supplanted from their friends, the only place where they may truly feel comfortable. The Way Way Back could be compared to The Lifeguard, or even parts of The To Do List or Grown Ups, primarily because of its location around water. And as the film poster will boldly declare, it is from the studio that created Juno and Little Miss Sunshine, providing a strong basis and idea of the style of wit used in the film. But despite the similar locations, The Way Way Back is able to stand on its own two feet as a strong coming-of-age film.