Film Review: The Way, Way Back

by Sam Robinson

Rated M. Starring Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Liam James.

[Stars: 4.5/5]

Summer is here (at least it is Down Under) and I reckon I’ve come across the best film for the season.

The Way, Way Back is the story of fourteen-year-old Duncan (James), a kid who along with his mother Pam (Collette) and her boyfriend Trent (Carrell) head to a small American town for the summer. But all is not well. The family is crazy dysfunctional, the parents and their friends are less mature than their kids, and Duncan suffers from a case of serious social awkwardness – he spends most of the film skulking around the place. By chance Duncan comes across egocentric Owen (Sam Rockwell), a manager of the town’s water park – I’d describe him as the Iron Man of the water park world – and lands a job there, unbeknownst to his family.

The back of the release calls this a ‘coming of age film’. And it is. But there’s much more to it than that. The film is charming and refreshing – moving at a slow pace, but never losing interest. The film spends a lot of time building the two different worlds that Duncan is caught between.

First, there’s home – a place of chaos and tension. Duncan just can’t stand being there, he doesn’t fit in at all. Secondly, there’s the Water Wizz water park. For Duncan, this becomes his solace. It’s where he finds belonging, and where he can be himself. As the film progresses you can feel the difference between these two worlds, as Duncan goes between them.

For those who have faith in Jesus, at times we can feel a similar tension. At present we are here on earth where there is chaos and suffering and we often feel like we don’t belong. And we don’t belong, because our true home is heaven. Peter puts it this way when he addresses his readers in 1 Peter 2:10-11:

Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 

Duncan feels like a foreigner until he enters the water park. It becomes his true home. For us, we long for the day when Jesus returns to take us to our true home. But while we live in a world full of sin, as fallen people, we are called to live for Jesus in all we do.

I really enjoyed The Way, Way Back. It has a lot of charm, humour, and it’s one of my favourite releases of 2013. I’m giving it four-and-a-half out of five stars.

The Way, Way Back is available now on DVD, Blu-Ray and streaming on Quickflix.


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