Funny, touching and irresistibly charming, The Way, Way Back is a coming-of-age comedy that gets the pains and joys and, above all, awkwardness of adolescence spot on.
Tongue-tied, painfully self-conscious 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James) is on summer holiday with his insecure mother (Toni Collette), her mean-spirited boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell, doing creepy extremely well), and his equally snippy daughter Steph (Zoe Levin), and he couldn’t be more miserable.
Everything about the trip – from Trent’s cruel put-downs to being the only person made to wear a lifejacket on a placid boat trip – seems designed to increase his mortification.
Then he wanders into the ramshackle local water park, Water Wizz, and gets prised out of his shell by its laidback, wisecracking manager, who gives him a job there for the summer.
Sam Rockwell’s feckless Owen is hardly the most responsible adult role model, but his playful mischief making is exactly what Duncan needs in order to open up, gain confidence and embrace the potential delights of teenagehood.
In real life, we’d probably find Owen to be a royal pain; on screen, as embodied by an impish Rockwell, he’s enormously winning. And so is the film.
James is perfectly cast as the everyboy protagonist and there’s excellent support from the likes of Allison Janney (a boozy neighbour), Maya Rudolph (Owen’s long-suffering girlfriend) and AnnaSophia Robb (the older girl who becomes Duncan’s first love), while the screenplay – by writer-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, Oscar-winners for their script for The Descendants – ripples with jokes and japes, and some real feeling, too.
Released in cinemas from Wednesday 28th August.
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