In short, this is another one of those movies that will become required summer viewing for me. Jim Rash and Nat Faxon (Academy Award-winning screenwriters of The Descendants) present this coming of age story of a boy named Duncan (Liam James), dragged to the beach house of his mother’s boyfriend (Toni Collette and Steve Carell, respectively). Rather than watch his mother fall into a bad relationship or deal with her passive aggressive boyfriend, Duncan begins exploring the beach community and finds solace and friendship in a local water park, Water Wizz, run by Sam Rockwell and Maya Rudolph.
Duncan is painfully, palpably awkward from the outset, not following other actors at the beginning of these films who are overly confident or not uncomfortable enough to make their transformation stark enough at the end. This works to affect the viewer even more deeply as he begins to find himself and come into his own.
Rockwell serves as a delightful foil to Carell’s overbearing interloper into Duncan’s life, though his own struggle with responsibility makes him both a good mentor for Duncan and an aptly flawed character in his own right.
The Way Way Back follows films like Stand by Me and its predecessor The Descendants in its tone and approach to the growth of its characters. It might not be as poignant as those films, but it does the job well.