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Unmissable 5 Stars
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Steve Carell
Toni Collette
Allison Janney
Sam Rockwell
Maya Rudolph
Liam James
Annasophia Robb.
Nat Faxon
Jim Rash.
Nat Faxon
Jim Rash.
Running Time
103 minutes

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The Way Way Back
The perfect summer movie

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After the separation of his parents, Duncan (James) has to spend the summer by the beach with his mother and her horrible new boyfriend. Anticipating a summer of misery, he finds events taking a more positive turn when he finds a new job and possible first love.

The Way Way Back

Coastal resorts have always been a good setting for coming-of-age stories. Everyone’s in a holiday mood, there’s usually lip-loosening booze nearby and clothing is at a minimum. You can’t help but wind up kissing someone or other. The Way Way Back is a particularly fine example of the genre. Written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, Oscar-winning writers of The Descendants, it’s a charming comedy that puts an arm around the gauche teen still shuffling about in us all.

Duncan (Liam James) is forced into a summer holiday with his mother, Pam (Toni Collette), and her new boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell, proving quite despicably good at being a prize a-hole), a man who tells Duncan that on a scale of one to ten, he’s a three. Duncan spends the next few weeks pushing up those digits by working up to thinking about talking to the girl next door (AnnaSophia Robb) and getting a job at the local pool, where he is mentored by Owen (Sam Rockwell), who has the work ethic of a hobo and the life view of a Golden Retriever.

What makes this more than just a teen film is the attention paid to every character. Even if their screen-time is minimal, Faxon and Rash’s refined writing means each person tells a full story, from Pam trying to hold a family together by keeping in her every feeling, to a sad-sack shack attendant, played by Rash, whose life moves in a tiny cycle he can’t break. And then you have Allison Janney’s boozy neighbour, blowing through scenes like a tornado of rum fumes and making you wonder why nobody’s writing films especially for her. There is delight everywhere you look.

Duncan’s problems aren’t severe — his parents disappoint him, but whose haven’t at some point, to some degree? — but that is why the movie should work for just about everyone, except, perhaps, the incurably confident. It’s not about overcoming a shattering trauma and learning to go on with life. It’s about kicking life’s annoyances in the balls and standing a little taller.

A film for every age, whether you’re an awkward kid, former awkward kid or awkward kid-adjacent. Funny, real and uplifting. A film that reaffirms your belief in the human spirit.

Reviewed by Olly Richards

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for The Way Way Back
Empire Star Rating

A little stunner!

Like all good surprises this began with low expectations. Gripping from the off with fantastic performances. Who knew Carell could be a nasty prick?! The young leads shine but this is the Sam Rockwell show, lighting up the screen (nothing new there) whenever he shows up. You hope the ending can match the previous hour and it doesn't disappoint one bit , punching you in the gut at the vital moment! One to re-visit after a crap day in work, excellent! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Jack Ryan at 10:16, 08 February 2014 | Report This Post

a very good movie

A very joyful movie ! just love this movie ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by soulfood at 23:35, 05 January 2014 | Report This Post

Wrong again empire

No, this is not a four out of five movie(or 8 out of 10 in my book, ffs Empire change to a 10 star system!). What the hell is all the fuss about? It's not bad but doesn't deserve such high praise. It is considerably better than kings of summer though, which it has been compared with, with good performances all round. However there's loads of films like this and most of them better. Nothing new for me here and so i find it ok but instantly forgettable ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Gram Woods at 16:27, 29 December 2013 | Report This Post

how every teen film should be

I watched this on a flight recently and it was a great choice. The Way Way Back is a film I've been meaning to see for some time and it certainly didn't disappoint. Speaking as a teen, movies aimed at my demographic can feel false and often like copies of each other. However, The Way Way Back was charming, funny, sad and feel good in all the right measures. An absolute must watch for all and a film I now count amongst my favourites. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by EilishMcGregor at 17:14, 20 October 2013 | Report This Post

Loved it

Great review, great film, great feeling of being 14 again. Well worth a watch. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Bobby TwoTimes at 09:16, 18 October 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Rough around the edges

Quality quality film. Sam Rockwell steals the show. Perfect balance between teen angst,adult drama and humour. Highly recommended. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by CriticNumberOne at 09:50, 14 October 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Rough around the edges

Enjoyed this very much. Doesn't do anything new, but the entire thing is very entertaining throughout its running time. ... More

Posted by Filmfan 2 at 10:41, 05 September 2013 | Report This Post

Rough around the edges

Yes, it's charming, but the fact that they're both directing for the first time is evident - it doesn't have the polish of The Decendants, and it's now obvious how much Payne brought to the table there. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Hawros at 16:36, 04 September 2013 | Report This Post

Rough around the edges

Yes, it's charming, but the fact that they're both directing for the first time is evident - it doesn't have the polish of The Decendants, and it's now obvious how much Payne brought to the table there. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Hawros at 16:36, 04 September 2013 | Report This Post

A fantastic, uplifting and hugely funny film With great characters and performances. Completely charming Without being overly sentimental. The most enjoyable film I've seen this year, if not the best. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Coyleone at 18:32, 02 September 2013 | Report This Post

loved it

Everyone is great, every scene at the pool is a joy! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by tysmuse at 23:25, 01 September 2013 | Report This Post


A beautiful way to end the Summer, The Way, Way Back is a must-watch for anyone who was a shy, geeky kid. And since you're reading this on the internet, I'm going to assume that means you as much as it does me. It's a rare, but pleasing thing when a movie feels like it's been made just for you. It's not perfect, but then neither's growing up. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by TheMightyBlackout at 21:36, 01 September 2013 | Report This Post

Definitely not 3 out of 10

In a summer full of disappointing blockbusters this indie film is most welcome. A film full of heart, great characters and very funny. I agree with the previous review, Sam Rockwell is superb but Allison Janney steals the show. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by darthmhall101 at 14:54, 01 September 2013 | Report This Post

John Hughes

Brilliant film, has the feeling of a John Hughes movie. I read that it was originally set in the mid 80’s, which is clear once you look at some of the references and props (Star Wars toys, classic Buick etc.) Obviously, comparisons will be made to Adventureland and The Perks of Being a Wallflower both of which I enjoyed, but this has more of a heart and is great deal funnier. Outstanding performances by Sam Rockwell and Allison Janney. Well worth watching. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Boyden at 13:55, 29 August 2013 | Report This Post

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