Unpopped Kernels: The Way Way Back (2013)

Due to Sam Rockwell and Allison Janney winning Academy Awards last night for their respective Supporting Roles, we’re celebrating their roles in The Way, Way Back!

We’ve all been there. We all know the story. Its happened to me, you and everyone around you. You’d think that maybe we’d be board of it by now but then a gem such as The Way Way Back reminds you why the coming of age genre will never fade into obscurity. The story of the end to adolescence is eternal, introducing us to a character finding his way in the world.

Image result for the way way back allison janneyIn this case, it is fourteen year old Duncan (Liam James), our uncertain and isolated lead. Duncan travels to a beach town for the summer along with his mother Pam, (Toni Collette), her boyfriend Trent, (Steve Carell) and his spoilt daughter Steph. Trent is almost emotionally abusing towards Duncan, though his mother can’t see. They travel to Cape Cod, supposedly an ideal summer destination. For Duncan, this isn’t the case and he is alone; distanced from his mother. For Duncan, it is a nightmare. With no one to communicate with, Duncan finds a pink girls bike in the shed and sets out to explore the town. He makes friends with Owen, (Sam Rockwell) the manager of a local water park where he begins working. It’s here that Duncan feels at home and with the help of Owen and his band of misfit staff he begins to find comfort from home and find himself.

The directorial debut of writing partners Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. The pair had previously collaborated on the screenplay for, The Decendants, which won them The Academy Award. Here the pair write and direct a stellar cast that includes acting pro’s such as Collette as well as its young lead, James. The pair have a knack for telling stories that centre on people’s dynamics. Although they have written a great story that deals with universal themes, its the characters that sell the story and indeed the film. They all bring something to the story and sparkle as a whole.

James is great as Duncan, the troubled and un-confident teenager. As the story progresses, we see Duncan’s confidence grow and thus, James grows with him. He breaks down but picks himself back up and knows that he has friends that will help him.

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He has a blossoming friendship with Sophia (Anna Sophia Robb) despite the fact that she looks like another in-crowder. Bikini clad with long blond hair she seems so far away from Duncan’s world. But the more we look, her silences tells us there is more to her than meets the eye. She is fighting her own battles and becomes intrigued by the quiet boy next door.

The adults are great too. Allison Janney plays Betty; Trent’s boozy, forthright neighbour and Susanna’s mother. She provides not only brilliant comic relief but a strong voice of reason despite the glass constancy in her hand.

Carrell’s Trent is truly despicable, (without a minion in sight). A character that can switch from charm to malice in the blink of an eye. The films opening, as he asks a hunched Duncan to rate himself before rating him a three, proves his manipualtive horrid behaivour. His character offers a life of partying and romance for Duncans mother Pam but only insults and humiliation for Duncan. Trent stands as a testament to Carell’s credentials as a serious actor as well as a great comedy performer.

Collette is wonderful as Pam who is torn between her own happiness and the happiness of her child. She wants Duncan and Trent to get along and become a family. not seeing Trent’s cold treatment of him.

From this epic cast, one performance stands out -Sam Rockwell. As laid-back, funnyman Owen, the manager of the local water park, Rockwell is on fire. His comic timing is impeccable and he delivers his one-liners with wit and flare. This stroll into comic territory shows the actors versatility as a performer. Compared to his creepy, sadistic portrayal in, The Green MileRockwell is bearly recognisable here as Duncan’s friend and hero. The film highlights that Rockwell, although playing a secondary character, has leading man charisma which hasn’t been utilised in larger roles.

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But why is the coming of age/rites of passage genre still such a thrill if we’ve seen it all before? Its an eternal tale that will always, in one one or another be relatable. The journey from innocence to experience is something that we all face and knowing that makes our own tales that much more precious. There are a lot of great coming of age tales out there and now we have one more.

The Way Way Back is a worthy edition to the bunch with a heartfelt story and lovable characters that you will route for with every viewing.

You can rent The Way, Way Back on Amazon! 


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