Things aren't usually better the second time around. Looking at real world examples like Hollywood remakes, cover songs and leftovers from last night's dinner, it's pretty difficult to refute this notion. Therefore, when I heard about the back story surrounding this summer's release, The Way, Way Back, I justifiably became a bit skeptical. From the same producers and featuring many of the same stars as the 2006 indie sensation, The Way, Way Back has been unfairly labeled as "the next Little Miss Sunshine". While in actuality, The Way, Way Back stands tall enough on its own.
Duncan (played by Liam James) is an awkward and lonely teenager "forced" to spend the summer months at his mom's boyfriend's shore house. As Duncan's mom (played by Toni Collette) appears blind to Trent's (played by Steve Carell) harsh belittling of him, the teenager ventures off to be as far away from her boyfriend as possible. Duncan eventually stumbles across a water park and sparks a unique friendship with the manager, Owen (played by Sam Rockwell). Owen senses the youngster's loneliness and offers him a summer job at the park. It's there where Duncan finally learns how to open up and be his true self.
The heart and soul of the feature resides in the role-model relationship built between Sam Rockwell's and Liam James' characters. The vastly-underrated Rockwell once again shows why he belongs in the same conversation as Hollywood's best actors. He delivers his one-liners with remarkably-timed precision and his dramatic moments with profound tenderness. Through the use of his affable see-through "cool guy" exterior, Rockwell commands the screen and demonstrates that he can just about do it all. Furthermore, the always respectable Steve Carell goes against the grain and shows some versatility as a despicable and unforgivable confidence-crusher to the film's teenage protagonist. Having grown accustom to Carell as an often-lovable character, he is regrettably convincing and most likely setting the stage for his Oscar-bound role in this year's fall release, Foxcatcher. Although I could continue to go on-and-on in detail about all of the other fine performances in the film, instead I will couple them together by reaffirming that The Way, Way Back is a wonderfully acted and heartfelt coming-of-age film suitable for just about any viewer.
Despite the picture's all-around winning vibe, there are a few blemishes to discuss. For starters, many of the film's characters feel like completely overblown and animated caricatures. While the "good" are VERY good and the "bad" are VERY bad, The Way, Way Back suffers from a black and white approach to its onscreen roles. Therefore, expressing its characters in such a way creates an inauthentic and disingenuous feel. In addition, the feature opens in a very unusual manner. Although the first act fails to adequately hook the audience, it does serve a unique purpose to the film's bigger picture. But when all is said and done, The Way, Way Back hurdles these faults and offers laugh-out-loud humor and an assortment of endearing characters.
While The Way, Way Back comes close to, but never quite reaches, the heights of 2006's Little Miss Sunshine and its festival competitor The Kings of Summer, it's still a praiseworthy coming-of-age tale all on its own. And since the jokes are abundant and the performances are stellar, there's plenty to enjoy. When The Way, Way Backreaches theatres nationwide in July, you won't be disappointed by catching another indie gem such as this one.