I believe that whenever we hit certain age and the length of time between our adolescence and where we currently are reaches a particular value, we develop this stunning ability to look back at our awkward selves and actually miss everything that we used to hate. If only for a moment, we can suppress everything that would go wrong in our poorly developed lives with all the failures and disappointments, and we wish we could be young again only for a day, so that we could forget the painful struggles of adulthood.
If I try really hard, I can maybe vaguely remember the times, when I wished I was a grown-up, so that my life would finally be about me. Well, whoever told me that in the first place, played a cruel trick on me, because it is by far the first and most important lesson of adult life – it is never about you. Being a grown-up is always about the other person: your wife, your husband, boyfriend, child, grandchild, your boss, your employees… Everyone, but you… Therefore, I had to come to terms with the fact that I would never get the chance to make up for everything I never had. Now, the years of my own adolescence weren’t particularly troubling, if you consider the fact that I had both parents and grew up physically intact. However, I find it ludicrous to assume that unless you were homeless, or beaten, you have nothing to be complaining about. I really believe that if way, way back (see what I did there?), when you were young, naive and vulnerable, you didn’t get to decide who you want to be (for any reason), then you have every right to do so, because we all deserve to be in control of our lives.
“The way, way back” made me think about just that time in my life, when I was supposed to lay the foundations for everything the future would bring, but couldn’t for a variety of reasons. One might call that film a ‘coming of age’ story, or a feel-good indie comedy, but for somebody like me, it is so much more than that. It’s not exactly a peek into the past, because I can’t say I can relate exactly to what the characters in this film had to go through, but the state of helplessness I can definitely understand.
Because that’s what “The way, way back” is all about. Directed by a duo of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, It’s a story about a teenage boy, Duncan (Liam James), who finds it near impossible to understand his place in the world. His parents are divorced, his dad is nowhere to be seen, and his mom (Toni Collette) is busy working on her own issues by trying to build a relationship with her new boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell). So there he is, all alone in the world, stuck on holiday with his mom, Trent and his douchebaggy daughter. In the midst of all the loneliness, longing for a father figure and his ineptitude to establish a bond with Trent (who is also kind of an asshole), Duncan serendipitously comes across Owen (Sam Rockwell) – a sardonic and loud-mouthed manager of the local water park, who is not only willing to befriend him, but will also help him get a grip on his own life.
Some films will make you cry (and if you’re my wife, there’s a lot of them), some will make you laugh, and some will make you do both at the same time. In all honesty, “The way, way back” fits perfectly into the latter category with its feel-good pick-me-up message founded in harsh reality of becoming a grown-up. I realize my perception of this film was heavily biased by my own experiences, but nevertheless I think it’s easily one of the best films of this year so far. Rarely do I get a chance to see a story that well-written, acted and directed. With the added bonus of speaking to me on a personal level, “The way, way back” provided me with an experience I won’t be able to forget for a long time.
I could go on for hours about Sam Rockwell’s magical performance as a complex, layered character, that you can’t not fall in love with, but it is not what’s responsible for this film’s powerful message. Sure, he gets a lot of stage time, all filled with witty banter and bittersweet comedy, but his character serves a purpose, that is to shine light on Duncan’s journey from the dark recesses of abandonment towards becoming a responsible and self-aware fourteen-year-old adult human being. And watching that process of morphing an awkward teenager failing to recognize his own potential into a man with a handle on his life is what makes “The way, way back” so damn beautiful.
Maybe because I too would like to have had the courage to stand up for myself once, this film got to me so well. Well, I didn’t, so I had to walk for a bit longer to get where I am today (and even at that, I’m still working through my emotional baggage), but it sure was nice to be told a story about someone who might have been you to some extent. Duncan could have just as easily be any teenager with problems (regardless of their gravity) and personal issues and even though the story does not have a definitive fairy-tale ending, it surely made me feel a bit better. After all, it’s not about getting everything right and making all the right decisions, but mainly about growing a pair of proverbial balls. Sooner or later we all have to do it and “The way, way back” got me to think about all the times I could have, but didn’t, and the time I finally did. And come to think of it, I’m glad my life turned out the way it did.
And that’s what all indie comedies should do to you…