main index




Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
Film: The Way Way Back
2013 Coming of Age movie in which the protagonist, 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James) is dragged along on a family vacation with his mom (Toni Collette), her boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell), and Trent's daughter. Duncan never quite finds his feet until he gets a job at a water park run by Adult Child Owen (Sam Rockwell).

This film provides examples of:
  • Adorkable: Duncan. Liam James in real life, for that matter.
  • Adult Child: Owen. To a lesser extent, every adult except Caitlin.
    It's like Spring Break for adults.
    - Susanna
  • Book Ends: The film begins and ends at Duncan's POV as he sits at the back of the Buick, as they go to and leave from Water Wizz respectively.
  • Butt Monkey: Lewis at the waterpark. And Trent certainly treats Duncan as one.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: Though from the start this movie has some degree of intensity, it begins as a standard Coming of Age story and is fairly predictable. However, some Genre-Busting occurs as the story takes some dark turns.
  • Cool Car: Trent's 1970 Buick Estate Wagon whose backward-facing third row seat lends the movie its' title. Justified in that he made an effort to source the same model his family owned when he was a kid.
    • Then there's Owen's "just sh---y enough" Cavalier convertible and the girly pink bicycle Duncan finds in the garage and commandeers as his own transportation.
  • Crapsack World: Seen from Duncan's point of view at the beginning. It gets better though once he starts enjoying himself.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Susanna's family is quite a snarkfest. Watch the banter of Peter and Betty, and then Susanna towards Duncan.
    • Owen, almost constantly, has some truly beautiful moments of snark in between life lessons and slacking off.
  • The Eeyore: Lewis
  • Emo Teen: Duncan and Susanna. Both loosen up as the summer goes on.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Trent asking Duncan (insistently) how he, Duncan, rates himself on a 1-to-10 scale. When Duncan says he's a 6, Trent tells him he's a 3.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Trent loves to give off the vibe of being a likeable parental figure and boyfriend but is an adulterous, emotionally abusive control freak just beneath the surface.
  • Freakier Than Fiction: Who in their right mind would call a water park "Water Wizz"? They did.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Susanna
  • Hard-Drinking Party Girl: Betty
  • Ironic Echo: "What are you starin' at, perv?"
  • Jerkass: Trent is very much this, as he constantly berates Duncan, and emotionally abuses his mom. It doesn't help that it's implied that he's cheating on Duncan's mom with a friend.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: a Rare Male Example in Owen, who helps Duncan get out of his shell and become well-liked by the staff and customers of Water Wizz.
  • Mondegreen: Discussed Trope. Let's just say Joan probably wasn't Raised Catholic.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Susanna.
  • Playing Against Type: Two actors have their signature roles reversed: Steve Carell as a jerky Type-A personality, and Sam Rockwell as a happy-go-lucky Adult Child.
  • Nice Guy: Owen
  • Plot Driving Secret: A lot of things would've been a lot easier if Duncan had just told his mom he'd gotten a job.
  • Professional Slacker: Owen. He even walks around the park in his bathrobe.
  • Souvenir Land: Water Wizz. According to Owen, it hasn't been updated since the early 1980s.
  • Tagalong Kid: Peter
  • The Cast Show Off: Sam Rockwell's dancing skills.
  • Tsundere: Caitlin, somewhat justified by the fact that Owen is unbelievably irresponsible.
  • Two Decades Behind: Done deliberately, justified, played with, lampshaded and invoked as the point. The movie shows quite a lot of older people pining for the older days, but as we are seeing the events unfold through Duncan, he is understandably creeped out by what he sees, and doesn't understand the nostalgia the others see.
  • Waxing Lyrical: Owen tries to get help with Bonnie Tyler's "Holding Out for a Hero." He gets weird looks.
  • What Could Have Been: The script originally set the story in 1984 but budget issues led to a present-day-with-an-unusual-amount-of-old-stuff setting.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Trent cheats on Duncan's mom. It says a lot about Trent that it's actually the least jerkish thing he does in the story.
Warm BodiesFilms of the 2010sWe Are What We Are

TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from
Privacy Policy