On a scale of one to 10, Duncan rates himself a six, after being prodded to pick a number by the bully whos driving.
A six? Duncans mothers boyfriend Trent says, bouncing disdain off the rearview mirror. I think you're a three.
The insult smacks Duncan from behind, sitting in The Way, Way Back of a vintage station wagon in a reversed rear seat. Moms asleep but shes too needy in love to protest. Trents daughter Steph may be faking sleep, deflecting dads scorn to Duncan.
Its the start of the summer that Duncan will never forget, for all the eloquent and awkward reasons The Way, Way Back shares with countless coming-of-age movies.
The movie is written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who won Oscars for scripting The Descendants, a gig resulting from this screenplay that floated through Hollywood for years. The movies share ideas of domestic splits and disloyalty, selfish grownups and children caught in the middle. You might even compare Hawaiis beach appeal with coastal Massachusetts and the Water Wizz water park, where Duncan takes first steps to the next, better stage of his life.
Duncan is portrayed with gawky grace by Liam James, smartly measuring his characters growth with gradual shifts in posture, eye contact and expression.
Water Wizz is Duncans escape option, away from Trents beach house and selfishness, played well and against type by Steve Carell. The water parks resident joker is Owen (Sam Rockwell), a role model in the younger Bill Murray mold. Owen sees something in this shy, mumbling kid taking his jokes literally, hires him part-time and becomes the positive male figure Duncan needs, joshing him toward maturity.
The Way, Way Back richly details both sides of Duncans summer, each marked by adults in states of arrested development. Owens is amusing, with pranks and banter inspiring a wacky sense of family among Water Wizz employees. Trents is annoying, a me-first attitude enabled by Duncans mother, Pam (Toni Collette), and summer neighbors like a boozy busybody next door (Allison Janney) and a pushy party couple (Amanda Peet, Rob Corddry).
The Way, Way Back doesnt re-invent the teenage turning point genre, but Faxon and Rash offer a breezy new spin.