In preparation for the rugby world cup in 2003, the South African rugby team were ordered naked into a freezing lake to pump up rugby balls underwater. When some of the players, including captain Corné Krige, tried to get out, they were allegedly persuaded to return to the water at gunpoint. What happened at Kamp Staaldraad was unusual, but the Springbok coaches’ motivation for doing so is universally embraced in sports: to take a group of athletes, transcend individual ambition and create a team that functions as one body.
In an industry where one of the biggest indicators of status is the trailer rented for you, a shared space is unlikely to survive a cast vote. Going against convention in order to save money, directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash chose not get trailers for the actors, and instead rented a house for the six weeks of filming. The house became so popular with both cast and crew that they would often go to the house even during weekends and days off. If The Way Way Back is any indication of the benefits which can accrue from a communal building, perhaps it should be a production non-negotiable.
Taking its name from the “way back seat,” the 70s colloquial expression for the seat in the back of that American staple, the station wagon, the film opens with Steve Carell interrogating an approximation of what might be an early teenage Andy Stitzer. Asked to rate himself on a scale of 1 to 10, Liam James’ Duncan demurs until finally admitting that he considers himself a “six.” Carell, without offering much explanation, responds “I think you’re a three.” Carell’s Trent doesn’t get much more likeable from there.
As the overbearing boyfriend of his mother Pam (Toni Collete), Trent is an unwelcome presence in Duncan’s summer holidays. It’s never mentioned explicitly that Duncan is someone who welcomes the holidays as an escape from the rigorous self-criticism secondary education provides, but given how badly he copes with Carell’s sophomoric power-plays, it’s unnecessary.
Liam James as fourteen year old Duncan, channels a less aesthetically idiosyncratic Michael Cera into somebody even the haughtiest teen can relate to. He escapes the diminished status he has been assigned by the prejudices of Trent and his buddies through employment at the Water Wizz park run by the wonderfully dry witted Owen (Sam Rockwell). Further plot synopsis is irrelevant, this isn’t the sort of film which needs too much guidance. Easy-going and easy to follow, you could slip in and out of it without losing focus – but it would be your loss. If The Way Way Back were set at Christmas, it would probably be on every December.
The Way Way Back never tries too hard, coasting on its breezy screenplay and assured acting from a very recognisable cast. It won’t overwhelm. It won’t bamboozle you. It will leave you with a warm fuzzy feeling. This directorial début by the Oscar winning co-screenwriters of The Descendants, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, is well worth watching
The Way Way Back is out on DVD now