Pop Arts Recommends: The Way, Way Back

This month’s recommendation is a film: The Way, Way Back. I really love this film, guys. Really really love it. I watched it again recently ahead of writing this post and was reminded all over again of just how awesome it is. Let the recommending commence!

The Way, Way Back is a sweet coming-of-age-summer tale, written and directed by Jim Rash (Community) and Nat Faxon, who won an Oscar for their screenplay for The Descendants. It tells the story of 14 year old Duncan (Liam James), who is reluctantly dragged to a seaside town for the summer by his mother, Pam (Toni Collette) and her new boyfriend, Trent (a wonderfully loathsome Steve Carell). Duncan is still adjusting to his parent’s separation, missing his Dad and enduring the bullying presence that is Trent. On the way to their holiday home, Duncan is sat in the ‘way back’ of the car, facing out at the road behind them. While the others are asleep, Trent asks Duncan where he sees himself on a scale of 1-10. Duncan guesses at a six, but Trent tells him he’s a three. This sets the tone of their relationship and triggers Duncan’s need to get away and restore his own confidence.

Duncan meets their neighbours: over-sharer Betty (Alison Janney) and her children, Peter and Susannah (AnnaSophia Robb). He develops a crush on Susannah, who is the only person who seems to talk to him like a normal person. Pam keeps both babying and ignoring Duncan, having fun with Trent and his friends Kip and Joan. She seems to Duncan to be oblivious to his needs, consistently allowing Trent to push him around. It’s a credit to the writing and to the brilliant Toni Collette that Pam remains sympathetic and complex, rather than seeming just weak-willed.

Fed up, Duncan discovers an old bike in the garage. Despite it being designed for young girls and covered with pink sparkles, it provides Duncan with some independence and freedom and leads him to Water Wizz, a local water park. After attending and sitting watching all the fun for a few days, the park owner, laid-back, fun-loving Owen (Sam Rockwell) takes a liking to him; offering him a job helping out and taking him under his wing. Working with Owen and the other Water Wizz staff, Duncan begins to blossom, growing in confidence and getting happier by the day. He learns from Owen, in particular, that being himself is good and the experience he has at Water Wizz affects how he moves forward at the end of the summer.

This film is heart-warming, moving and uplifting. Anyone who ever felt awkward and lost as a kid will recognise so much in Duncan and the difficulty he has in making himself really seen and really heard. His development as a character is a joy to watch and I defy anyone not to be cheering come the end of the film. The script and characterisation is sensitive and smart, with the adult cast delivering well-rounded performances. Liam James is extraordinary, mirroring Duncan’s internal transformation in his physical performance – definitely one to watch. This is a great film to watch at the start of summer, or following a rubbish day as it leaves a happy warm glow in it’s wake. Enjoy!

 

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