Cinematic Thoughts for Cinematic Minds
‘The coming of age’ story is one we can all identify with. We all have those years in our lives when we feel that the world is against us. Whether that be in the form of your parents, friendships, relationships, school etc. each and every one of us can identify with a youthful resistance against conforming to society and growing up. So no wonder the genre is popular right?
The Way Way Back is an often subtle yet resurgent film about being “down and out” about feeling like you have nobody in the world and then stumbling into happiness. The film follows Duncan (James) as he is taken to spend the summer with his Mother (Colletee) and his overbearing Step- Father Trent played by an almost unrecognisable Steve Carell. Trent’s constant oppression and insults, summarised well by the film’s opening line “Duncan I think you’re about a 3 out 10 for looks”, drives Duncan away from his Mother’s watchful eye. He eventually finds himself a job working at the local water park for wayward manager Owen (Rockwell) and finds a group of friends who take him under their wing and begin to bring out his personality. However, events transpire and instead of running away from his Mother’s new relationship Duncan is forced to eventually confront Trent and realise he can attain happiness in the new life he finds himself a part of.
As I previously mentioned the film is subtle, it’s a film about a kid hating his Step- Dad and working in a water park… hardly Oscar material right? But you’d be wrong to think otherwise. It’s a great picture about real human interaction and takes a refreshing approach to age old concerns. Real is the operative word here, we can all identify with the shy and unassuming Duncan who would rather take a punch than throw one. We can all accept the friendship group he becomes part of as being genuinely caring and supportive. We can even begin to believe that Hollywood– funny man Steve Carell has actually got a better acting range than you’d think. His performance in the film is worlds away from Brick in Anchorman or The 40 Year- Old Virgin… think more of his performance in Little Miss Sunshine with a dose of evil thrown in.
Duncan learns throughout the course of the film to confront the problems in his life. He has to traverse through the hardships that most teenage boys suffer through, making new friends, falling in love for the first time and working out where he fits in the world. This coupled with the knowledge that his Mother may be being mistreated by her boyfriend and that his real Father wants nothing to do with him results in a bad summer for Duncan. But he finds solace in Owen, played by the enigmatic Sam Rockwell, who adds spark and intrigue to the film. Sam Rockwell aside from being hilarious throughout (as he often is) also gives Duncan a view into a darker future. Owen is approaching 40, is single and lives in a water park that is closed 6 months of the year. He is a walking advert for not trying or succeeding in life. Their friendship actually shows Duncan that to progress in life you have to stand up to the issues that hold you back.
Overall the film is one that is heart- warming and welcoming in it’s approach to story telling. It is neither complex nor ground breaking but it still feels individual. Maybe because it attempts to be truthful and honest. Some coming of age stories can fall either way when being serious or funny but The Way Way Back manages to do both superbly. It’s not a conventional tale about growing up, the story doesn’t satisfy certain narrative criteria you would expect it to but it manages to make its point without being explicit. If I were to make a comparison to similar films I would say The Way Way Back shares a synergy with films like Juno, Little Miss Sunshine and Everything Must Go. It really was one of the highlights of my year in cinema this year and is a nice relaxing and hopeful tale that we can all find solace in.