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The perfect send-off to the summer holidays

by Staff

As another summer draws to a close, it’s time to reflect on the season past before those memories start to fade along with the tan lines. Days at the beach! Sunsets and cocktails! Time off to rest and recharge! Good times with family that turn into the inevitable boiling-over of long-running resentments that will be forgotten about just in time to do it all again next year! Hurrah.

If you’re lucky, you might once have experienced the biggest milestone of summers past – the life-changing, formative rite of passage that is the Teenage Summer Job. For many of us, we look back on those experiences with fondness and gratitude. The first wages that allowed us to live like millionaires (relatively speaking). The discovery of new, possibly lifelong friends. Summer crushes, either realised or unrequited. And a coming-of-age that meant come autumn, we had grown into someone else and, if we’re really lucky, one step closer to who we’re meant to be.

You haven’t done summer right until you’ve watched The Way, Way Back.

This is the premise of The Way, Way Back, a quirky low-budget comedy-drama that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2013 and went on to have relative box-office success but still escaped many. If you haven’t seen it, this needs to be corrected immediately as it’s a wonderfully off-the-wall, sweet, nostalgic, relatable, funny story with a big heart.

It follows awkward, pasty 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James) as he’s drawn out of his shell and finds not only his feet, but confidence, a paycheck, a tan, a girl (potentially) and breakdancing skills that earn him the nickname Pop-N-Lock. And just to cement the summer job magic, his gig is at the true temple of summer: the water park.

I missed The Way, Way Back when it came out, but stumbled across it during endless plundering through streaming archives during lockdown. Now, it’s firmly in my top 10. Why? Well, to give you a sense of its flavour, let’s start with the fact that it’s the lesser-known cousin of another of my most cherished movies, The Descendants.

Summer lovin’: Liam James and AnnaSophia Robb in The Way, Way Back.

Summer lovin’: Liam James and AnnaSophia Robb in The Way, Way Back.Credit: Claire Folger/Warner Bros

The Way, Way Back was written and directed by US comic journeymen and longtime collaborators Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who won Oscars as co-writers of the adapted screenplay for The Descendants. Both movies share a richly bleak humour but also a generous, sympathetic approach to their flawed characters and the travails of family life. It’s about people trying their best to navigate bumps in the road – after all, no one gets a handbook on How To Do Life.

We shall return shortly to the hero of our story, Duncan, but it’s important at this point to flag the brilliantly cast supporting players. Toni Collette and Steve Carell are reunited after last teaming up on Little Miss Sunshine – another movie not a million miles away in tone – as Duncan’s newly divorced mum, Pam, and her shitty, overbearing boyfriend, Trent. They’re spending the summer at Trent’s beach house in a white weatherboard Cape Cod holiday town, with Duncan and Trent’s brat teen daughter, Steph (Zoe Levin), in tow.

Toni Collette and Steve Carrell round out an impressive cast.

Toni Collette and Steve Carrell round out an impressive cast.Credit: Claire Folger/Warner Bros

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