REVIEW: THE ONLY THING HOLDING ‘THE WAY, WAY BACK’ WAY, WAY BACK IS ITS HERO
But we never quite understand where the interest stems from. Socially awkward and standoffish, Duncan makes no real effort to connect with any of these characters, shunning all attempts at consideration offered by his mother. Offered the contrast of Levin’s Steph, we understand that we’re supposed to think of Duncan as kind, sensitive, and “deeper” than the rest. But… he’s not. He’s shy. Not a particularly bad guy. But he’s not a particularly good guy, either.
And he never really learns to be. The film never asks Duncan to step up to the plate, open his mind to the pains his mother might be suffering in regards to his distance and her boyfriend’s mistreatment of her. There’s not a single act that Duncan performs in the movie that isn’t self-driven. Aside from learning to laugh a little bit louder, the character barely changes at all from beginning to end.
But his journey, while perhaps not emotionally successful, is a lot of fun. All scenes that pair Duncan with Owen — hell, all scenes with Owen at all — are remarkably enticing, acting as a catalyst to the viewer’s own fantasies about escaping our realities and diving into a carefree, mystical water park universe. The comically obsessed Owen’s little world involves gags, games, parties, and a romance with a cold shouldered Maya Rudolph, who is even a delight as the straight man character. Writers/directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash offer a good deal of fun as one-note park employees — a sexually charged man child and a miserable park fixture with dreams of starting his life anew, respectively.
In fact, we experience everything Duncan does. We revel in the fun offered by Owen and his gang. We are oddly stimulated by the supercharged douchebaggery offered by Carell (fantastic in this bad guy role). But we don’t really learn anything, just as he doesn’t, which is the film’s only fatal flaw. In order for these summertime follies to have any value, they must offer their hero something. Sure, he has a good time, figures out how to relax a bit, and maybe even snags a few points in the self-esteem department. But by the end of The Way, Way Back, Duncan is no more a man, no better a person, than he is at the start. And for a coming-of-age story, that’s a pretty big problem.
By: Michael Arbeiter