The Way, Way Back (dirs. Jim Rash and Nat Faxon, 2013)

Seen today, at Vue.

Family dynamics are fraught – even in the most seemingly normal ones. A clever, subtly nuanced tale of adolescent and adult angst, The Way, Way Back is one of my films of the year.

14 year old Duncan (Liam James) is set for a miserable summer – spending it in New England with his mother (Toni Collette) and her domineering, controlling boyfriend Trent (Steve Carrell, on sparkling form.) Adding additional problems to the mix are the drunken next door neighbour, Betty (Alison Janney), and outgoing couple Kip and Joan. Surrounded by adults who quickly regress into adolescence – partying, drinking, and pot smoking – Dunncan finds solace at the local water park, and befriends Owen (Sam Rockwell, in possibly his best performance since Choke.) As Duncan grows in confidence at the park, his family life starts to slowly unravel, as the truths about the emotionally manipulative Trent start to surface. And whilst there are some scenes that made me laugh out loud, these are counter balanced by some very uncomfortable moments – the family board game, for example, is a revealing and troubling scene. The film also flips several standard tropes in this genre – the non-starting of romance, and the ending is more truthful, than happy. The film can be seen as message heavy – there’s no such thing as a happy ending, families are difficult, and you have to look out for yourself- but its beautifully acted, cleverly scripted, and gorgeously shot. A triumph.