Hello darkness, my old friend – ★★★★★
Two of the writers behind The Descendants have turned their hand to directing and have delivered a coming of age tale worthy of standing shoulder to shoulder with the giants of the genre. Nat Faxon and Jim Rash penned and directed The Way Way Back. Fans of television show “Community” will know Jim as Dean Pelton but Faxon may not be as recognisable, he is however the voice of Raymond the Bear in “The Cleveland Show”.
Duncan (Liam James) is the definition of awkward; hunched over, unable to maintain eye contact and his pale, almost grey complexion gives him the look of Frankenstein. Bundled into the back of a station wagon he finds himself reluctantly on the way to the holiday home of his mom’s new boyfriend for the summer. Toni Collette plays Duncan’s mum Pam and Steve Carell is the father in law in waiting who has a daughter from his first marriage. Duncan and Pam are strangers in this world and are thrown in at the deep end when they first encounter Betty (Allison Janney). Constantly drunk she is a whirlwind of gossip and mischief and always berating her poor son Peter for not covering up his “wonky” eye.
The parents are more reckless than the children in this film, they drink all night, sleep all day, roll around in the sand at any opportunity and smoke dope. Duncan is left to fend for himself and keeps bumping into Owen (Sam Rockwell) who he learns is the boss at the local water park. Owen sees something in Duncan and gives him a job in the hope of getting him to come out of his shell. Cue a montage of him slowly becoming more self assured and learning to believe in his own abilities.
All actors are flawless, major and minor. Carell puts in a great turn being a dick and it’s probably the first film he’s done where you hate him. Collette is pitch perfect as a mum trying to make everyone happy and cling to some conventional notion of family while it falls apart around her. The directors even give themselves bit parts as water park employees but being accomplished actors in their own right it feels fitting to have them in front of the camera. AnnaSophia Robb makes a nice change for the down to earth girl next door who helps Duncan get through his emotional woes.
The centre of the film is the relationship between Duncan and Owen. Owen is the father or big brother Duncan needs in his life, his humour, care-free attitude and always knowing the right thing to say makes him the ultimate role model for any teenage boy or man in general. It shows once again Rockwell’s fantastic skill as an actor. He brings such quality to a film with believable performances no doubt making those around him raise their game. Liam James invokes the spirit of a young Dustin Hoffman from The Graduate and you can see the influence of the film with certain shots in the back of vehicles. For Duncan the real love interest is his Mum, he is trying to make her see how much better off she would be casting off her loser boyfriend and coming back to him.
Parts of the film are predictable but when what you expect to happen does you don’t feel cheated or any the worse off for it. It’s a rare skill to make people know what will happen but still make them love it. With a central theme of the film based on rating yourself it feels cruel to give this anything less than 5 stars.
Released nationwide in Ireland on 28th August 2013.