Monday, 29 July 2013



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When on the eve of your summer vacation, your mum's boyfriend informs you that he thinks you're a 3 (out of 10), you could be forgiven for thinking its going to be one of the most memorable summers of your young life, if for all the wrong reasons.

14-year-old Duncan (Liam James), with his hang dog expression, certainly looks like a young man destined for the gallows; his death row digs taking the shape of the summer beach house of Trent (Steve Carell), the douche-y boyfriend of his mum, Pam (Toni Collette). Trent's self-obsessed teen daughter, Steph (Zoe Levin), is a fellow inmate.

But as in most coming-of-age films, this is the summer that will change Duncan's life; the summer that he meets someone special. No, not a girl -- although Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb), the blonde neighbour and daughter of gregarious lush, Betty (a scene-stealing Allison Janney), is not without her appeal -- but a man.

Well, a man-child. Owen (Sam Rockwell), the manager of the local water park, may be suspended in adolescence but he is the exact kind of male role model Duncan, whose own father is M.I.A, is in need of. Carefree, immature and yet deceptively sage, Owen is the kind of mentor/big brother/cool uncle we all wish we had when growing up, and Rockwell imbues him with just the right amount of his manic charm in a winning performance.

But it's young Liam James who carries the bulk of the film, and he does so admirably. It helps that he is close to Duncan's age (unlike so many American teens played by 20-somethings), with his slight frame and freckled face exuding vulnerability whilst he tries admirably, like most teen boys, to stifle every emotion bar anger.

Thankfully, The Way, Way Back is free of wisecracking or hindsight voice-over narration. Kudos to writer-director team Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (the pair, who have small roles as water park employees, scripted 2011's The Descendants), who have wisely chosen to allow the audience to experience everything as Duncan does, in the moment and at face value.

And while The Way Way Back may not have the emotional authenticity of another recent coming of age film, 2012's wonderful The Perks of Being A Wallflower, it's not without its feels. While we've not all been in Duncan's exact situation, we've certainly all been teenagers at one point and there's much to identify with and relate to in this young man's unforgettable summer, one that will leave you with fond memories too.

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