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Film / The Way, Way Back

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A 2013 Coming of Age Dramedy film written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, 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:

  • Adult Child: Owen. To a lesser extent, every adult except Caitlin.
    Susanna: It's like Spring Break for adults.
  • Ambiguous Time Period: Apparently the script was originally set in The '80s. The decision was made to change it to modern times, but we rarely see any technology invented in the last thirty years. Most notably, a major part of the plot is that Duncan disappears for entire days and his mother chides him for not leaving a note. The lack of cell phones is a glaring thing in a 21st century setting.
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  • Bookends: 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, Neil/Ming Lee of the ¡Three Amigos!, 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 shitty enough" Cavalier convertible and the girly pink bicycle Duncan finds in the garage and commandeers as his own transportation.
  • Country Matters:
    Betty: (describing another family) They called me a 'see-you-next-Tuesday.' To my face.
  • Crapsack World: Seen from Duncan's point of view at the beginning. It gets better though once he starts enjoying himself.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Owen. Others even constantly have to tell him to be serious.
    • Susanna's family is quite a snarkfest. Watch the banter of Peter and Betty, and then Susanna towards Duncan.
  • The Eeyore: Lewis.
  • Emo Teen: Duncan and Susanna. Both loosen up as the summer goes on.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Two notable ones:
    • 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.
    • Owen, who Duncan has just met playing Pac-Man in a diner, Owen shrugs off Duncan's advice that each Pac-Man game has a pattern, saying that anyone can learn a pattern and that knowing it would take all the fun out of each game, showing Owen's disdain for organization and patterns.
  • Extreme Doormat: Duncan calls his mom out for being this. As she knows about Trent's affair, but does nothing about it.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Trent loves to give off the vibe of being a likable parental figure and boyfriend but is an adulterous, emotionally abusive control freak just beneath the surface.
  • Flat Character: Steph, who falls into the Bratty Teenage Daughter trope to a t.
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: Trent, Joan, and Kip don't seem to really like Betty, but her and Pam seem to be great friends by the end of the film.
  • Freakier Than Fiction: Who in their right mind would call a water park "Water Wizz"? They did.
  • Freudian Excuse: It's implied that Owen's dad was a lot like Trent, which explains for his Manchild behavior.
    • With having Trent as father (who she only see twice a year, probably for a good reasn), it's no wonder why Step is the way she is.
  • Gaslighting: Trent does this to Pam, and she alludes to her ex-husband having done this as well.
    Pam: (to Trent) Don't make me feel crazy. I've been through this before!
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Susanna.
  • Hard-Drinking Party Girl: Betty. It's also heavily implied that Steph is one too.
  • Ironic Echo: "What are you starin' at, perv?"
    • Also, "Don't die wondering."
  • 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.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: Trent. There seems to be no redeeming qualities to him whatsoever.
  • Like an Old Married Couple: Allison Janney has described her character Betty as having this with her son Peter (River Alexander).
  • 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.
  • Motor Mouth: Betty. Especially in her opening scene.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Susanna, and the girls Roddy, Owen, and Duncan check out when they are waiting to go on the water slides.
  • 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.
    • Also, it's revealed that Duncan's dad doesn't want him, which he doesn't find out until half way through the film, despite how much Duncan wants to live with him.
  • Professional Slacker: Owen. He even walks around the park in his bathrobe.
  • Riddle for the Ages: How did Duncan pass owen on the slide?
  • Souvenir Land: Water Wizz. According to Owen, it hasn't been updated since the early 1980s.
  • Tagalong Kid: Peter.
  • ¡Three Amigos!: Vladimir, Ishmael and Ming Lee (not their real names, just Owen's pet names to them)
  • 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.
  • Vague Age: Susana. It's stated that she's older than Duncan (who's 14), but young enough where she feels comfortable to admit her feelings for him.
  • Waxing Lyrical: Owen tries to get help with Bonnie Tyler's "Holding Out for a Hero." He gets weird looks.
  • Would Hurt a Child: When Duncan reaches his boiling point, and pushes Trent, there is no hesitation before he tries to push Duncan back.

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