The Way, Way Back Movie Poster Image

The Way, Way Back



Refreshing coming-of-age tale a joy for teens and up.
Parents recommendPopular with kids
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Release Year: 2013
  • Running Time: 103 minutes

What parents need to know

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

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.


Some arguments, both big and small.


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 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.


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.

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.

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.

Families can talk 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

Theatrical release date:July 5, 2013
DVD/Streaming release date:October 22, 2013
Cast:Liam James, Sam Rockwell, Steve Carell, Toni Collette
Directors:Jim Rash, Nat Faxon
Studio:Fox Searchlight
Run time:103 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:thematic elements, language, some sexual content and brief drug material

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What parents and kids say

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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 if we saw the same movie! Absolutely the kids are having troubles, but they solve it in a way that is much more positive than the parents in their lives. I couldn't help comparing it to summer movies of my teen years like Caddyshack and others. It's that generation of parents in the movie who misbehave but their teenagers who hold it together and find healthier ways to cope. Interesting and hopeful. My one caution is that it is really painful to see Duncan's deep hurt about his parents' divorce. Any child fresh off that experience in their own lives will either connect with the story deeply or find it too hard to watch.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
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 material makes it better for older teens. Violence includes repeating images of a teen suicide and some heated arguments. For sexuality, one of the main structures of this movie is teen sexual relations. Language includes several uses of s--t (and the related bulls--t and horses--t), one c--t, a few uses of f--k, goddamn-t, son of a b-tch and w---e. Adults smoke weed occasionally. In the end, this poignant drama from the director of "Juno" is best left for older teens. Rated PG-13 For Drug Material, Language, Some Sexuality, And Brief Violent Images.
Parent 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 two fourteen-year-old boys watching with us were riveted (the protagonist is a fourteen year-old boy). I think the movie would have been just as effective if they toned down the "adults behaving badly" aspect, i.e., the sex, drugs and rock and roll were over the top. That is why I would not bring any one younger than 14 (or older than 70...I'm glad my mother wasn't with me).
What other families should know
Great messages
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking