Drawing obvious comparisons with 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine, The Way, Way Back is a bittersweet coming-of-age story that strikes the perfect balance between laughter and tears.
First-time directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash have fashioned a near-perfect portrait of adolescent angst, that eschews mawkish sentimentality yet still manages to tug at the heartstrings with aplomb.
Fourteen-year-old Duncan (Liam James) wanted to spend the summer with his father in San Diego. Instead, he’s being forced to tolerate a holiday on the east coast with his mother Pam (Toni Collette), her new boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) and Trent’s tearaway teenage daughter Steph (Zoe Levin).
Our affection for the film’s painfully shy teenage hero is galvanised in a blistering opening scene, in which the lad is asked by his mother’s new boyfriend to rate himself out of ten.
“I don’t know, six?” responds Duncan nervously, after a considerable amount of deliberation.
“I think you’re a three,” retorts the boyfriend coldly. Clearly he hasn’t read the chapter on positive encouragement in his parenting handbook.