The Way, Way Back

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
The Way, Way Back Movie Poster Image
Refreshing coming-of-age tale a joy for teens and up.
  • PG-13
  • 2013
  • 103 minutes
Parents recommendPopular with kids

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 6 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 16 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive messages

Just because someone (say, a parent) is older, that doesn't mean she's wiser. Sometimes teens are just as insightful, if not more so, and we can all learn from one another. Also, nobody's perfect, but some imperfections are kinder and gentler than others. Choose who you want to be. Being yourself and finding joy in it is the path to happiness.

Positive role models & representations

Duncan is a grounded, curious 14-year-old who can see right through adults' insecure machinations. But he doesn't use his observations cruelly. Even when he's despondent and upset, he finds a way out of his own misery. Owen, though immature at times, is kind and open-hearted, and he teaches Duncan how to be comfortable in his own skin. But Duncan's mother's boyfriend, Trent, is mean and disloyal, and his mother, though caring, forgets what's important.

Violence

Some arguments, both big and small.

Sex

Innuendo, plus some lingering camera shots on women's backsides (as they're ogled by guys) and stolen kisses between a man and a woman who are technically involved with other people.

Language

Language includes one "f--k," plus "s--t," "damn," "d--k," "jackass," "crap," "ass," "a--hole," "oh my God," and more. A euphemism is used for the c-word.

Consumerism

Some brands/products are seen/mentioned, including iPhone, Pabst, Google, and Chevrolet.

Drinking, drugs & smoking

Adults spend a chunk of the summer pretty much drunk or nearly drunk. One woman proudly announces that she's off the wagon (and is obnoxious to boot). A teenage girl sneaks a few beers into her purse. There's talk of people buying weed, but viewers don't really see it. A man is shown smoking a cigar.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Way, Way Back is an empathetic, entertaining coming-of-age dramedy that rings true on many levels, capturing what it's like to be a 14-year-old boy surrounded by adults who should be doing a better job of acting their age. Some themes (i.e. infidelity) may be too much for tweens, but teens will appreciate the challenges the main character faces and how he decides to confront them. Expect scenes showing adults in various states of inebriation (mostly giggly and neglectful), seducing others who aren't their mates, and being cruel to teens, among others. A teen is shown sneaking a few beers into her purse; others talk about how one teen supplies adults with weed. Language includes one "f--k," plus "s--t" and "a--hole," and there's innuendo and stolen kisses between a couple who are involved with other people.

User Reviews

Parent of a 13 and 16 year old Written byGrisabella July 12, 2013

Best film I've seen for teenagers in so long! Worth the search to find in the theater!

I absolutely loved this movie and saw it with my 16 year old son. There is a teen review on this site that mentions scenes of a suicide attempt, and I wonder i... Continue reading
Adult Written byCSmediafan July 19, 2013

Must see for 14 and up

This is a very entertaining, well-made coming-of-age movie...enjoyed by kids 14, 17, 18 and my wife and I. It balances the funny with the serious very well. The... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written bySean Broucek July 4, 2013

Poignant, but best for older teens.

Parents, this fun and poignant drama has plenty of heartwarming moments and stereotypes, but the brief violence and sexual overtones and language and drug mater... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byjb321678 January 5, 2014

A sweet, genuine, and impactful film.

I'm just gonna say it: I loved The Way, Way Back. I seriously haven't enjoyed a movie like I did with The Way, Way Back in a long time. Not only is it... Continue reading

What's the story?

Fourteen-year-old Duncan (Liam James) isn't looking forward to a summer at the beach. Not when he'd rather be at his dad's house in California, and the beach house he'll be staying in is owned by his mother Pam's (Toni Collette) smug new boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell), who declares Duncan a 3 (out of 10) after asking him what he thinks he rates. (For the record, Duncan thinks he's a 6.) Duncan's pseudo-sister, Trent's daughter, Steph (Zoe Levin), has zero interest hanging out with him, but her friend and next-door neighbor, Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb), isn't as harsh, extending Duncan a friendly welcome. (Duncan thinks she's cute, too.) Susanna's mother (Allison Janney), loves to drink and share her opinions loudly, in that order. And though they seem nice, Pam isn't so sure about Trent's friends, especially Joan (Amanda Peet), who seems bitter from the start. Good thing there's Owen (Sam Rockwell), who runs the Water Wizz waterpark and shows Duncan how freeing, how wonderful it is to be your best self.

Is it any good?

Coming-of-age dramedies rarely ring true anymore, suffocated as they are by so many cliches, but this film is an exception; it's a gem, authentic on so many levels. It captures the alienation and isolation that come with being a 14-year-old boy whose parents are divorced and whose mother is trying to figure out how to get on her feet again, making a go of a relationship with a man who isn't good enough for her. Few characters here are stereotypes; most of them are complicated in really interesting and very real ways. Take Collette's Pam, who cares about her son but is distracted by a boyfriend who sort of is Mr. Right; how to juggle that? And yet she's not villainized. Even Carell, who's playing against type here as Trent, manages to make him seem like a real person, even if he's a jerk. Rockwell's Owen is dangerously close to caricature, but he never crosses the line. He isn't portrayed as the perfect polar opposite of Trent, just a better alternative. And then there's James' Duncan, who isn't a loser, even if others think he is. He knows this, and he's all the more fascinating because of it. 

The film distills summer's languorous, seductively lazy, but frustratingly indolent ways, how it's suffused with so much expectation and offers both joy and disappointment. The movie initially lags and is sometimes tripped up by a certain aimlessness, but perhaps that's how summer is, too? It feels too much all at once, but sweet once you let it unfold as it will. You're advised to enjoy The Way, Way Back in the same way.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what makes The Way, Way Back a coming-of-age story. What elements define that subgenre to you? What are your favorites, both on screen and in book form?

  • Talk to your kids about the challenges of being the child of divorced parents. How does this film portray the adults? Are they responsible parents? What other challenges does Duncan face due to his parents' split?

  • How does the film depict drinking? Are there realistic consequences?

  • Why do you think Duncan feels so distant from his mother? Are his reactions realistic? Understandable? Why does he feel so alone?

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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