As an intended understatement, coming-of-age tales are plentiful. Be it differing narrative intricacies, setting or tone, this particular subgenre’s far from dead despite sometimes dreadful thematic familiarity. With The Way, Way Back, the re-teaming of Oscar-winning duo Faxon and Rash proves fruitful in its intentions, using obvious nuances to its advantage as we follow awkward young Duncan (Liam James) through a painful transitional phase. Struggling to find acceptance among individuals that couldn’t care less – the most malevolent of whom is his mother’s new boyfriend (Steve Carell) – Duncan soon finds solace at a local water park brimming with eccentric, non-judgmental and upbeat locals.
At its core, what The Way, Way Back has going for it is a charismatic supporting cast aided by a competent sense of humor, the latter of which isn’t too contrived or overbearing. In fact, it’s the individuals that help Duncan break out of his social handicap-inducing shell that remain the most likable aspect of the film, period, our protagonist’s recognizable self-alienation ringing too bothersome in the long run. Sure, the script’s addressing of his difficulty in coping with his parents’ very recent divorce feels authentic, his prospective stepfather’s actions and demeanor only further wedging the wrench in the works as Duncan’s defeat remains imminent, however it all isn’t as frequently poignant as it could’ve been.
Overall, this particular seriocomic coming-of-age exercise benefits almost solely from its base level appeal, more specifically through its apt presentation of an oft-seen scenario as seen through the eyes of an (exceedingly) introverted teen. It’s mildly endearing, funny, well-acted and well-intentioned, which is more than I can say for a majority of entries into this increasingly familiar territory. Put plainly, The Way, Way Back is serviceable, barely overcoming grating thematic redundancy with the easily enjoyable, a catalog of charming character archetypes pumping warranted charisma into an otherwise flat production.