The Blog

Why The Way, Way Back Took Me Way, Way Back

It's a study in awkwardness, and that gaping hole in a lonely teenager's life desperate to be filled by friends, if not family.

I've seen a lot of films this year. Blockbusters, dramas, comedies. But while I thrilled as Logan clashed with a giant android in The Wolverine; marvelled at giant robots and their pilots in Pacific Rim, and smiled at the heroes of Kick-Ass 2, I didn't empathise with any of them.

However, rather aptly, The Way, Way Back took me way, way back to being an awkward teenager.

That's one of the few good things about middle age. You can empathise with two generations of characters if they're well defined.

For newcomers it centres on Duncan, a socially awkward 14-year-old who reluctantly goes on summer holiday to a beach house in Cape Cod with mum Pam, her strict boyfriend Trent and his daughter Steph.

At their beach house, we meet boozy neighbour Betty (a scenery-chewing Alison Janney), and her kids, Susanna and Peter.

Could Duncan and Susanna begin an archetypal Summer of '42 style romance? Possibly, but TWWB is about much more.

It's a study in awkwardness, and that gaping hole in a lonely teenager's life desperate to be filled by friends, if not family.

Any teen whose family has been wrecked by divorce should empathise with that huge void caused by a missing dad, brother or both. Basically it sucks, but as a teen it's hard to express how much.

When Duncan crosses paths with laid back, too-cool-for-school water park manager Owen at the local pizza diner, so begins a beautiful friendship.

Dad-free teens dream of having a mate as cool as this.

Part big brother, part surrogate father, Owen is one of the year's most beloved characters.

He has the wit and delivery of Tony Stark, and more than once I thought the sublime Sam Rockwell must be a shoo-in for the part if Robert Downey Jnr either prices himself out of the part or, heaven forbid, retires.

New employee Duncan, and the audience are introduced to the park's assorted workers: Caitlyn, Lewis, and Roddy. For our young hero this is a glorious escape from his unhappy domestic life, suffering the presence of love rat Trent, and his mum's boozy friends.

Storywise I could fill in all the blanks, but this is not a hugely plot-centric movie. What it does is capture that glorious feeling of youth, summer, first love, and charts a character arc that is believable and absorbing.

Despite the presence of Steve Carell and Toni Collette, this is not Little Miss Sunshine 2. Yes it's as charming and watchable, but for me far more rewarding.

AnnaSophia Robb dazzles as obligatory cute neighbour Susanna; Liam James is wonderfully awkward as Duncan, while writer/directors Jim Rash and Nat Faxon also pop up as supporting characters Lewis and Roddy.

The best movies are those you have no expectations of. Those whose trailers promise little, but whose rewards are countless.

I tired of Rash and Faxon-scripted The Descendants, but here they hit a home run.

The glorious New England backdrops don't hurt a bit either, and by the third act we feel we've breathed the same air as these characters.

Like Life of Pi, The Way, Way Back is that rare film which gets under the skin and lingers for days after.

Some films, like You're Next (which I saw immediately beforehand) aren't worth the price of admission, but for me this made up for it.

It may not have had the tent pole budget of Iron Man 3 or Star Trek Into Darkness, but this mines a richer seam of humour and drama that should touch a chord with teens and forty somethings alike.

Highly recommended.