So for the first time this summer I went to the movies solely for the air conditioning yesterday, but the movie I ended up walking into, The Way Way Back, was delightful. All of the posters and press for the movie heralded the fact that it came from the “studio” that brought us Little Miss Sunshine, which makes sense given Toni Collette and Steve Carrell’s presence. But despite the fact that it also features a dysfunctional family and a great soundtrack, this movie really stands on its own.
The plot follows Duncan (the quietly compelling Liam James) as he is dragged to an East Coast beach town (which oddly made me miss New England a lot) along with his divorced mom (Collette), her (controlling) boyfriend Trent (Carrell), and his wonderfully catty daughter (Zoe Levin). The movie wonderfully captures the claustrophobia of forced familiarity, but it really takes off when Duncan escapes to the freedom of the local water park and bonds with the misfit staff there, led by the charming man-boy Owen (Sam Rockwell) and fondly exasperated Caitlin (Maya Rudolf).
This is essentially just a really sweet coming of age story, with an absolutely wonderful supporting cast, but what’s wonderful about it is the core message doesn’t seem to be that Duncan needs to “go his own way,” no matter how many times Rockwell repeats that mantra, but rather that growing up is realizing that no one really knows what their way will be. (And those who claim they do are probably controlling jerks who will yell at you about the rules of Candy Land.)
I have to give a special shout out to Allison Janney as the delightfully drunk, but deceptively wise neighbor whose daughter Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb) manic pixie dream girls her way into Duncan’s life, by sharing the magic of ghost crabs. Janney steals every scene she’s in, and considering how strong the rest of the movie is that’s really remarkable.
P.S. I also spent a lot of time, riding in the way back of a car, the opening sequence really captured the banal joy of watching the world pass out the back windshield of a car.