American film and literature is obsessed with looking at the awkwardness and angst of “coming of age” in America. We are focused on those years between 14-16 and the mid-twenties. Recent film treatments have run the gamut from grim to whimsical. And as these films look at children struggling to make sense of the business of being adults we notice that these teens are often surrounded by adults who won’t stop acting like children.
The Way, Way Back is a coming of age movie that more than satisfies as an example of that genre. It is not as magical or artsy as Moonrise Kingdom, although there are plenty of similarities. That foggy, piney Maine-ish atmosphere is missing in The Way, Way Back which has a more 50’s vibe, even though it takes place much later, but other elements are present. The parents in Moonrise Kingdom are still married to each other but they behave much like the single parents in The Way, Way Back.
I think the title The Way, Way Back refers to the third seat area in a classic station wagon. Duncan, our teen, is sitting in that least preferable position when the film opens. In the back seat is his mother’s boyfriend’s daughter. In the front seats are his mom’s boyfriend and his mom. They are headed to the boyfriend’s beach house. Duncan is very unhappy and not hiding it. He hates his mom’s new boyfriend and he wants to spend the summer with his Dad.
Duncan, we can see, will have a make-it or break-it summer. This is that key moment when he either shows his mettle or settles for sullenness, anger or wimp-dom. He meets a colorful character who either works at or owns a water park called Water Wizz. Owen is having his own delayed maturation issues. I won’t tell you any more except that I enjoyed the movie very much.
My friends had gone to see Fruitvale Station which tells the story of a young man from a minority neighborhood. First of all I think it must have been very difficult for my friends to go from Fruitvale Station to The Way, Way Back as they did. As you can imagine the coming of age of Owen Grant III in Fruitvale Station does not contain more than an ounce of sweetness. Of course, this is based on a true story as opposed to a work of fiction, but if it is true that most white kids have a coming of age story similar to Duncan’s, and far too many minority kids have a coming of age story similar to Oscar Grant’s, then there truly is a wide racial gulf in America and we need to work even harder than we have been so far to make the Fruitvale Station experience have a story line that plays out way more like that in The Way, Way Back. As for me, I do intend to see Fruitvale Station as soon as I can steel myself to the awfulness of the arc of that young man’s life.
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