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The Way, Way Back
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104 of 118 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
Written and directed by the team of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (winners of the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Descendants), The Way, Way Back is absolutely one of the best films of 2013 so far. And even saying that feels inadequate because it's such a fine film, a coming-of-age comedy/drama with a great script, fine performances by a superb cast, and directed with a flawless natural touch so that there's never a moment where things feel false or forced.

The Way, Way Back is seen from the point of view of Duncan (Liam James), the shy and awkward fourteen-year-old son of recently divorced Pam (Toni Collette), as they head out on a summer vacation with Pam's also-divorced boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell), and Trent's teenaged daughter Steph (Zoe Levin). Riding in the back of Trent's station wagon, Duncan is visibly less than thrilled at the prospect. It's quickly apparent why in the opening scene when Trent engages Duncan in conversation while Pam and Steph are sleeping, asking Duncan to rate himself on a scale from one to ten. When Duncan shrugs and rates himself a middling "six", Trent immediately responds with a down-putting

"I think you're a three. You know why I think you're a three? Since I've been dating your mom, I don't see you putting yourself out there, bud. The good news is that there are going to be plenty of opportunities for you to take advantage of at my beach house this summer. It's a big summer for all of us really. So what do you say you try to get that score up huh? Aim a little higher than a three? You up for that, buddy?"

Which tells us everything we need to know about Trent and how he deals with people.

When they arrive at Trent's beach house, they are immediately greeted by neighbor, Betty (Allison Janney), who like Pam is divorced with kids, teenage daughter Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb) and younger son Peter (River Alexander). Later on they are joined by Trent's friends Joan (Amanda Peet) and Kip (Rob Corddry). Duncan feels distinctly out of place and increasingly miserable. Trent and Pam are always partying with Trent's friends (with Trent constantly seeming to find ways to intimidate or humiliate Duncan). Steph is like a miniature version of her father, bossing her own clique around and not wanting anything to do with Duncan. Peter's too young to be company, and Susanna is, well, a girl, and Duncan finds it very difficult to talk to girls. Even when Susanna makes the effort to talk to him.

Desperate to get away from the beach house, Duncan finds a small girls' bike - probably Steph's when she was younger - in the garage and takes a ride into the nearby town. At the local pizzeria he sees Owen (Sam Rockwell) busily playing Pacman on an old videogame machine. After watching for a bit, Duncan mentions that there's a trick to the game - a pattern to follow that'd make it a lot easier. Owen looks at Duncan like he's crazy. "What fun is that?" Owen retorts. "Just following a pattern?" Before he can finish his game though, Owen, who it turns out owns the local water park - the Water Wizz - gets called back to work. He still has a life left on the game, so he asks Duncan to finish up. But as Owen leaves, he calls back mock-imperiously "No pattern on _my_ quarter! Cut your own pattern!" Which tells us everything we need to know about Owen and how different he is from Trent, something that Duncan immediately picks up on.

The next day, Duncan goes to the Water Wizz, partly out of curiosity but mainly to get away from the beach house. The scene when Owen comes across Duncan sitting by himself on a bench is priceless:

Owen (deadpan serious): "I'm afraid I'm gonna have to ask you to leave."
Duncan (startled): "What?"
Owen: (still deadpan): "You're having way to much fun. It's making everyone uncomfortable."
Duncan (dejected, getting up to go): "Okay."
Owen (dropping the act when he realizes that Duncan is taking him seriously): "Wow! I was just kidding! And that wasn't even my best stuff!"

Before Duncan knows it, Owen takes him under his wing and gives him a job helping out at the Water Wizz, giving him both a place to escape to during the day and, more importantly, a place people just accept him as he is. This is the kind of summer job we all wish we had when we were kids (well, all of us who aren't future Trent's anyway). Given his first real taste of both acceptance and responsibility, Duncan blossoms in the easy-going environment, and for the first time we actually see him happy.

It's hard to say enough about the superb cast and the spot-on performances they bring. Liam James (The Killing, Psych) does a marvelous job of bringing out Duncan's coming of age, growing over the course of the film from being withdrawn and uncertain to growing in self-identity and confidence as he confronts the unpleasant realities that his mother is unwilling to face. Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense, Little Miss Sunshine and The United States of Tara) is particularly moving as Duncan's mom, Pam, struggling to deal with being divorced, with raising a teenaged son and with her fear of being alone, and knowing that she's not doing all that good a job at any of it. Steve Carell, well-known from his many, many comedic roles, turns in a highly effective straight-laced performance as Trent, bringing out the character's manipulative and frequently demeaning nature in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Allison Janney (The West Wing)'s Betty is a nice turn as a kind of simpatico counterpoint to Pam, being another divorced mother with kids, trying to do her best and dealing with the same struggles, albeit with a fair amount of drinking, a performance at once both comic and sympathetic. Maya Rudolph (Bridesmaids, Saturday Night Live and Up All Night) is solid as Owen's patient but reaching-her-limits girlfriend, Caitlin. AnnaSophia Robb (Bridge to Terabithia, Soul Surfer) is perfect as Susanna, Duncan's companion in summer-vacation misery and the girl who (after several tries) gets Duncan to open up some. River Alexander has some choice comic moments as Susanna's younger brother, Peter, who's desperate to escape their well-meaning but trying-too-hard mom. And writers/directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash bring good-natured comradery as Roddy and Lewis, veteran employees of Water Wizz, the water park where Duncan ends up working. But it's Sam Rockwell who gives The Way, Way Back a lot of its comic heart as Owen, the laid-back cracking-wise owner of the water park who ends up taking Duncan under his wing and giving him his first tastes of independence, of responsibility, and most importantly of acceptance for simply being who he is and not expecting him to be anything other than that.

The screenplay is extremely well done, with a nice even flow and natural believable dialogue that gives depth and development to all of the characters, and is, I feel, worthy of a Best Original Screenplay nomination come Oscar time. According to an interview, Jim Rash said that the main inspiration for the story was really the opening scene between Duncan and Trent, which was based on a similar conversation he had with his own stepfather when he himself was 14.

There is also an interesting story behind how the film ended up with the title The Way, Way Back. When the script was actually written back in 2007, the original title was The Way Back, which was easily understood given the themes of the film and the way in which it ends. However, by the time the project was green-lit for actual production, another film with the title The Way Back had just come out in 2010. So partly to avoid confusion with that film, and partly as a kind of inside joke, Faxon and Rash changed the name of their film to The Way, Way Back.

And on a last note of trivia, the Water Wizz is an actual water park in Massachusetts. Everything you see in the Water Wizz scenes - including the staff uniforms - is part of the water park, and most of the extras are locals who actually go there. A nice touch of reality that really adds to the realistic feel of the film.

Highly, highly recommended.
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40 of 48 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 24, 2013
Format: DVD
The Way Way Back is a follow up to The Descendants for writer/director pair Nat Faxon and Jim Rash that premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. It is a coming of age film focused on an awkward teenager named Duncan (Liam Jones) who has been forced on a vacation with his mother and her new boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell). The relationship between Duncan and Trent is uneasy to say the very least. The film opens with Trent telling Duncan that, on a scale of 1 to 10, Duncan is a 3. Duncan wishes he could be with his father, all while he continues to become more and more disgusted with his mother's choice in Trent. From their summer beach house he finds a bicycle and makes his way to Water Wizz, a local water park built during the 1980s, and run by Owen (Sam Rockwell) and his girlfriend Caitlyn (Maya Rudolph). At Water Wizz Duncan finds a place where he belongs as his family life continues to devolve back at the beach house.

When The Way, Way Back is centered on the story of a boy living in a divorced family and dealing with his mother's new boyfriend The Way, Way Back is a spot on, honest movie about a teenager growing up in a divided family. The material at Water Wizz is also enjoyable. The Way, Way Back does have weaknesses in deriving humor froma generic, disobedient teenage girl (Trent's daughter) and setting up a sort of romance between Duncan and the girl next store which is essentially the same romance you see in every other coming of age movie.

Occasionally hard to sit through due to the overwhelming awkwardness of the situations, one cannot penalize The Way Way Back for its accuracy. The moments watching 14 year old Duncan respond to his mother and Trent are incredibly genuine and do set the film apart. It is a rough subject matter to address in film, but it is done well here and is in no way sugar coated.

The acting is, like the plot, down to earth. All the characters are believable. Steve Carell is an unlikable character, and we are not meant to support him, but the character of Trent does exist as a human being. The most eccentric role (not to mention, most entertaining) is Sam Rockwell's Owen, but even then we're left with a character who one could easily imagine meeting at a water park.

Despite some missteps, and coming of age clichés, The Way, Way Back sells itself on its honesty. Although it doesn't manage to break new ground it is different enough to recommend it to viewers who are willing to sit through it. If you lived through a divorce as a child the film could either be a tear jerker or it could be a trigger you'd rather not sit through. From my point of view, it was worth sitting through even with the harsh memories it dug up. If you're looking for an honest, sometimes humorous, often times serious look at a teen living in a post-divorce family then you should give The Way, Way Back a watch.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on August 28, 2013
Format: DVD
This was surprisingly a really good movie. We laughed and cried. My husband even liked it, though he didn't cry. One of the best movies I have seen all year and a welcome relief from all of the superhero/action flicks that we are bombarded with. Left the theater smiling.
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44 of 60 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
I had seen the trailer for this movie a number of times in recent weeks at my local art-house theatre here in Cincinnati and couldn't wait to see this movie. The movie finally opened today, and I went to see it right away.

"The Way, Way Back" (2013 release; 103 min.) tells the story of 14 yr. old Duncan (played by newcomer Liam James) who, along with his mom Pam (played by Toni Collette), her boyfriend Trent (played by Steve Carell) and his 16 or 17 yr. old daughter Stephanie, are going to spend the summer at Trent's summer house on a beach somewhere in Massachusetts. Right as the movie opens, Trent and Duncan get into an already destined-to-be-a-classic exchange: Trent: "On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you see yourself?"; Duncan: "a 6"; Trent: "a 6? more like a 3... Let's try and get that score up this summer!". Duncan has a hard time fitting in with anyone but he does seem to be able to talk to Suzanna, the neighbor's daughter who's just a bit older than him. Duncan then strikes gold when he is able to get a job at the local water amusement park (called Water Wizz, which in fact does exist in real life under that name) and gets taken under the wings of the park's manager Owen (played by Sam Rockwell). It doesn't mean that all is well, though. But to tell you more of the plot would surely ruin your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.

Several comments: first, this is yet another coming-of-age movie in the last several month's, after "Mud" and "The Kings of Summer", yet this one clearly stands apart from the previous two, both in its bitter-sweet tone, and its depth. Second, this movie is a labor of love for writers-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (they also have a small acting part in the movie), as they have been trying to make this movie for years (winning an Oscar for best screenwriting for "The Descendants" a few years ago finally got them on track for this movie). Third, the movie is a nice study of how people, both young and adults, adjust to new situations (following divorce). Most of the immediate families we get to know in the movie comprise of single moms, either with or without a new husband or boyfriend. Fourth, the movie just oozes great acting performances, none more so that from Liam James as the awkward teenager who is flailing his arms about as he is trying go get comfortable with himself and those around him. And what about Steve Carell, who is cast against type, in a role 180 degrees away from the likeable guy he usually plays. Here he plays a jerk whom you'd like to slap in the face and yell "look at all the hurt you're causing to people you supposedly love". Carell pulls it off brilliantly. Other notables include Maya Rudolph (as one of the waterpark managers), and Allison Janney as Betty, the loud and possible alcoholic neighbor. She is as outrageous as she is funny. Last but not least, the movie features a great soundtrack (which is available on CD) with tracks from indie-artists like Edie Brickell, Wild Belle, and Ben Kweller, just to name those. (There are also several 80s hits from Mr. Mister, INXS, etc.)

When doing a coming-of-age movie like this, there is a thin line between bitter-sweet/moving and overly sentimental. This movie never gets too sentimental. Instead, the directors bring what feels like a very authentic, even if fictional, story about young adults fitting in and also broken families. I'll admit that I was pretty much choking up the last 15-20 min. of the movie. The screening I saw this at today was very well attended, and this movie seems to have all the makings of a hit movie on the art-house theatre circuit. If it wasn't clear enough by now, "The Way, Way Back" is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on July 30, 2013
Format: Blu-ray
The Academy Award winning writing team (The Descendants) of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash are back at it with the coming-of-age drama, The Way Way Back. Both Faxon and Rash write, direct, and act in the film, which stars Liam James as Duncan - a shy, uncertain 14-year-old that travels to an East Coast vacation house for the summer with his mother, Pam (Toni Collette), his mother's boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell), and Trent's daughter, Steph (Zoe Levin). Trent and Duncan have a rocky relationship due to Trent seemingly always picking on Duncan or isolating him in some way - forcing Duncan into a world of seclusion. After arriving at the coast, Duncan feels out of place and miserable until one afternoon when he encounters Owen (Sam Rockwell), the manager of a local waterpark. Owen befriends Duncan, gives him a job, and encourages him to have fun while being his own person and creating his own path in life. The dramatic-comedy's supporting cast also includes Allison Janney, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet, Jim Rash, and Nat Faxon.

While the plot of this film is nothing new, it really does capture the essence and purpose of making a "coming-of-age" film. In order for a film of this nature to succeed, a distinct antagonist really has to emotionally hammer away at the protagonist before the push-back occurs. Oddly enough, Steve Carell is the antagonist in this film, a role which is completely unlike him, yet he pulls it off in an entertaining, proficient manner. It's hard to believe - during his scenes in the film - that's he's still the same funny-man that brought us Michael Scott in The Office, and the roles of Brick Tamland in Anchorman and Andy Stitzer in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. For once, it was an absolute pleasure to watch Carell in a role where he doesn't have to rely on being funny or outlandish. Carell's dramatic roles are few and far between, but he has previously thrived as these rarely-acted characters, the most notably of which can be found in Little Miss Sunshine. Speaking of Little Miss Sunshine, Carell is once again reunited with Toni Collette for the first time since the 2006 road drama.

There are literally not enough great things to say about the entire cast of The Way Way Back. Outside of Carell's dramatic performance, Sam Rockwell steals the show. He brings such a unique enthusiasm to his roles, which is one of the many reasons he's become such a well-respected and sought-after actor. There's very little doubt Rockwell is well on his way to earning himself an Academy Award - since he's far too talented to not have one already. Along with Rockwell, the talented Liam James is also making quite a name for himself. At only 16 years old, James has already had significant roles on television, but none more important than his big screen feature role in The Way Way Back. James does an admirable job in the role of Duncan - the quiet loner who is searching for his identity. He brings raw emotion to the screen and meshes well in the role of Rockwell's befriended protégé.

As the film begins, trying to dissect the title of the film is a bit of a head-scratcher. It's an unusual name for a film, and while it's initially unclear what it means, mostly due to the symbolism only being in the first and last scenes of the film, the title really does earn its meaning by the time the credits roll. This is a moving film about a boy growing up, finding his own way and becoming his own person, despite being neglected and ridiculed. Not only is the script well-rounded with the perfect amount of drama and comedy, it's also a respectable theme-driven film that can be watched over and over with enjoyment. Writers and directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash have written another gem, and have created one of the most heartwarming, entertaining films of the year.

Overall, The Way Way Back should be seen by anyone and everyone without hesitation. It features an all-around brilliant cast, in which each member plays their roles exquisitely. Aside from the slightly predictable and recycled plot, the film has something to offer all movie lovers. The Way Way Back is full of charm, charisma, and honesty, meshing perfectly with the incorporation of family drama and teenage fun. Even though this well-written script is a bright spot, the plot is still overshadowed by the superb acting of Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, and the rest of the supporting cast. There's very little doubt that after viewing this film, you'll be hard-pressed to find a more enjoyable family film thus far in 2013.

GRADE: A
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on August 3, 2013
Format: Blu-ray
Simply put, one of the best films of the year. Kudos to the cast, not a misstep among them. Liam James was outstanding as Duncan. Watching his characters transformation was seamless. Also, if Janney and Rockwell are not nominated for Oscars next year, it will be a crime.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on October 11, 2013
Format: Blu-ray
I saw this among all the oscar nominated films and this was by far the best. I've gone to dozens of movies since then I keep referring to this as the best movie I've seen in a while. It's OK if it's a recipe that's been done before because it works, you care and feel involved in their lives. When a movie does that, it's a success.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format: Amazon Instant Video
Possible Spoilers

This is pretty much a coming-of-age narrative, which manages to refresh an already crowded genre.

The film opens at the end of a road trip to their holiday let for the summer; our main protagonist is Duncan his family comprises of his single mother Pam, her arrogant boyfriend Trent and his, not so nice, teenage daughter. Meanwhile Duncan is relegated to the rear of the car– way, way back. On first meeting Duncan, he is melancholy, distant 14-year-old Duncan (played aptly by Liam James). On the way to the beach house, Trent emotionally belittles Duncan, often making remarks and gestures that are demeaning and offensive to him. Trent asks Duncan to rate himself on a scale of one to ten, and tells Duncan he thinks Duncan is a three – thus begins their summer vacation: what could go wrong?

As Duncan emerges out of his ’shell’ he is befriended by Owen (Sam Rockwell) as the narrative moves on Duncan finds consolation in a clandestine summer job at Water Whiz, mentored by Sam Rockwell's jesting manager and an assortment of oddball employees.

This is a quirky film with some pretty good lines given over to the Sam Rockwell character. The cast performances across the board, by and large are good, however, the character of Rash as the camp Lewis, the kiosk attendant with no customers and no prospects of escape – is a real scene-stealer. This film is witty, hopeful, sentimental and enjoyable – It is sad to say I came across this little gem while channel surfing.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 2013
Format: DVD
The boy is initially awkward in this understated coming-of-age film, but that shouldn't be confused with bad acting. That's how most of us feel at that age. I think his character's transformation from a young, stiff, bewildered boy into a more self-confident teen is believable and wonderful to watch. The film isn't perfect, but if you accept it on its own terms, and just watch the fine ensemble acting from all those involved, you won't regret it.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
"The Way, Way Back", written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, is a welcome escape in the summer sea of bloated, unimaginative summer blockbusters. Combining funny moments with incredibly rare observations, the film is a gem that deserves to be remembered among the best coming-of-age films.

Faxon (star of the short-lived TV show "Ben and Kate") and Rash have been working on this project for years. A while back, the stars started to align and they were able to get the relatively small budget together before moving on and signing Sam Rockwell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney and Steve Carell. At the most recent Sundance Film Festival, "The Way, Way Back" sold for a near record price to Fox Searchlight and a mid-summer release date was set.

Duncan (Liam James) travels with his divorced mom (Toni Collette), her boyfriend (Steve Carell) and his older daughter (Zoe Levin) to the boyfriend's summer house in a sleepy New York beach town. As soon as they arrive, the boyfriend's insecurities begin to rear their ugly heads, but Mom downplays the behavior, desperate for a relationship, any relationship even if there are problems. And the boozy next door neighbor (Allison Janney) immediately insinuates herself into the family's activities. Kip and Joan (Rob Corddry and Amanda Peet) are two friends who hang out with the family a bit, but they have problems and insecurities as well. When someone comments "It's like summer camp for adults" they weren't kidding. As the vacation continues, and Duncan feels increasingly alienated, he finds solace and friendship in Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb), the daughter of Betty (Janney) and Owen (Sam Rockwell), the manager of a rundown water park, Water Wizz.

When you watch a film like "Way Back" it quickly becomes apparent that someone was crafting this story from events they actually experienced. There are too many moments that seem real, could be real. Jim Rash wrote an early draft of the screenplay based on his own experiences. Later, when he became creative partners with Nat Faxon, they fleshed out the story and ideas and made it something that is, at times, a little magical.

As Duncan realizes how much his mom is going to side with her new-ish boyfriend, played completely against-type by Steve Carell, he spends more and more time trying to stay away from them. He spends a lot of time outside and watches as Susanna deals with her own parental issues. There are moments when we think Susanna might become the typical teenage girl, ready and willing to lord her supposedly confident sexuality over the younger boy living next door because many of the girls in her group do this. But she shows some depth and doesn't fall into this trap; she prefers to do things her own way and that means talking with and becoming friends with Duncan. This relationship is especially refreshing and adds nice nuance to the film.

Out of frustration, Duncan rides a bike far into the little village and finds the run-down water park. He quickly meets Owen (Rockwell), his girlfriend, Caitlin (Maya Rudolph) and two of the ne-er do well employees, Roddy and Lewis (Faxon and Rash). Owen immediately takes a liking to Duncan and you can see he recognizes a little of himself in the younger boy, so he befriends him and gives him a job. Duncan immediately takes to the new profession like a fish to water and really seems to grow and break out of his shell. These moments are quiet and subtle, making them seem almost downplayed and ultimately more real.

But then he has to return home every night. And face the reality of his mom's low self-esteem and her boyfriend's continuing efforts to demoralize him.

So the young man seeks refuge at the water park and Owen becomes a mentor to Duncan, listening to him, guiding him and teaching him. These interactions allow the teenager to have fun and forget about his troubles at home.

Liam James seems like a natural fit for Duncan, a smart, good looking, normal young teen with pretty typical problems. While this may not be an earth-shattering portrayal, the young actor makes the role very believable. We can all relate to his problems because we have gone through many, if not all, of these issues ourselves. James makes the role believable by bringing the quiet nuances and moments to life.

Toni Collette is also pretty much perfect as the single mom desperate to make her new relationship work. Because of this desperation, she overlooks many things, neglecting her needs, her son's needs, losing a little of herself and her son in the process. It is Collette's ability to bring a quiet intensity to this role that makes it work. She doesn't shout a lot, but pain and disappointment register on her face. And when realization hits, it is a powerful moment because it could happen to any of us.

The lovable, but awkward guy Steve Carell usually portrays is nowhere to be seen. Instead, he has a lot of problems he has clearly never dealt with, choosing to deflect them upon those around him. It is a good performance and more memorable because it is surprising.

As soon as Allison Janney's Betty appears on screen, her mouth opens and she begins a rapid fire litany of booze-induced observations, remembrances and predictions that prove she is simply the perfect person to play this role. Betty insists on becoming a part of the festivities and Janney provides a lot of laughs throughout the film.

But the real standout in the cast is Sam Rockwell. I have never been a huge fan, but as Owen, he seems the perfect fit. Again, there are some great comic observances, but the filmmakers have also managed to give him moments of particularly lucid introspection. Owen recognizes a lot of himself in Duncan and while he realizes it is too late for him to change, there is still time for Duncan.

"The Way, Way Back" is a fairly rare film; when you leave the theater you feel like smiling rather than demanding a refund. You also remember moments from it, moments that will make you smile and moments that will make you talk about the story with your friends and family. Don't miss it.
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