Film review: The Way, Way Back

The Way Way Back: Liam James as Duncan. Picture: Contributed
The Way Way Back: Liam James as Duncan. Picture: Contributed
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ASKED to rate himself on a scale from one to ten, 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James) hesitantly volunteers that he’s probably a six. “A six,” says his mother’s new boyfriend (Steve Carell). “I think you’re a three”.

The Way, Way Back (12A)

* * *

Adult selfishness collides frequently with adolescent disaffection in The Way, Way Back, a coming-of-age drama that is given a helping hand from its great casting, including Carell’s casual bully, Toni Collette as Duncan’s emotionally overtaxed mother, and Allison Janney as the outspoken lush next door, whose son has a lazy eye (“just stare at the bridge of his nose, that’s what I do”). But the film catches fire when Duncan’s forced family unit arrive at a smalltown beach resort, with an ancient Adventureland-style amusement park, where the star is a slacker called Owen (Sam Rockwell), who takes the alienated teen under his wing.

With Owen’s laid-back guidance, Duncan starts making friends and gaining confidence, especially with smart Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb). In turn, as you may already have guessed, Owen’s new father-figure status could force him to grow up a little too.

Co-directed and co-written by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, The Way, Way Back is pretty generic – it even shares dysfunctional family DNA with the Faxon/Rash/Alexander Payne script for The Descendants – yet it is likeable, and has some moments of truthfulness underneath the clichés. It’s just a pity that Duncan is such a passive hero: in that sense, Carell may have a point.

Twitter: @SiobhanSynnot

On general release from Wednesday