The Way Way Back ★★★★

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I'll admit that I knew very little about this film going into it. But I was sold solely on Sam Rockwell's precense and the secondary setting of the film - a water park. You see, I've got a nostalgic fondness for childhood settings, and a great film like Adventureland or The Kings of Summer send me back to a carefree time where the world wasn't so complicated. That sort of setting is the perfect backdrop for a story like this that removes the blinders from the protagonist's eyes and exposes him to the harsh realities of adulthood.

It's a character film that explores relationships and what it means to pave your own path. Rockwell is excellent in the role of go-nowhere reckless park manager with a genuine heart, and it's refreshing to see a role model depiction that doesn't let anyone down. The story is very genuine and Rockwell's character truly exemplifies the tone of the film as a whole - compassionately hilarious.

Toni Collette delivers a compelling performance although still well within her bailiwick, while Steve Carell steps outside his usual capacities and offers an interesting new side of himself that I hope we see more of. Allison Janney's exuberance and the more modest performances of the rest of the cast round out the film to create a well-balanced overall tone. Liam James (our protagonist) coasts through the early acts of the film before finally coming into his own, as much is expected of him in the role of a boy still discovering who he is and what he wants to become.

Overall, Faxon and Rash have written and directed an engaging, rewarding coming-of-age story that straddles hilarity and genuineness brilliantly.