There comes a point in most people’s lives when they begin to realize that they’re finally an adult. For me that moment came the first time I re-watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and I realized that I sympathized more with the adults and Ferris’ sister than Ferris. Since that day, I’ve noticed a trend in my entertainment sympathies. I watched Easy A and my favorite characters were Olive’s parents (hilariously played by Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci). I’ve been re-watching The Cosby Show, and my affinity has swayed from Theo to Clair.
So when I watched The Way, Way Back, I was expecting the same. Written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash*, the writers of the Oscar winning The Descendants screenplay, this is a smart, funny movie about the pain of growing up and the fear of becoming the wrong kind of adult. Liam James is remarkably and heartbreakingly convincing as Duncan, a 14-year-old spending the summer with his mom, Pam (Toni Collette) at her boyfriend Trent’s beach house. Trent, played by a surprisingly unlikable Steve Carrell, is the aforementioned wrong kind of adult. He is obsessed with the “supposed to” in life, caring more about things and image than people. When Duncan finds a job at the local water park, he begins to meet people that have chosen a different path toward adulthood (and have reached it in varying degrees).
There are a lot of reasons to recommend this movie. The supporting cast — Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph, AnnaSophia Robb, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet, and the scene stealing Allison Janney — is fantastic, and the movie is hilarious. But I loved the movie because of how much I cared about Duncan. Teens are often portrayed as arrogant and reckless or completely socially inept nerds, but most kids live somewhere in the middle. James’ performance and Faxon and Rash’s writing helped give me a chance to root for the teen again, which is almost like reclaiming my youth.
*The Dean from Community has an Oscar!