The Way Way Back is a comedy-drama that follows 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James) as he goes on summer vacation with his mother, Pam (Toni Collette), and her boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell). Pam sees only Trent’s good sides, but the way Trent treats Duncan makes Duncan want to escape their beach house whenever he can.

After riding his bike into town one day, Duncan comes across the local water park, Water Wizz. Here he meets the eccentric and amusingly irresponsible Owen (Sam Rockwell), who owns the park. Owen takes Duncan under his wing, hiring him as a helper and giving him some respite the neglect and mistreatment he experiences at home. Gradually, Duncan comes out of his shell, forming deep friendships with Owen, other staff members at the water park and a girl named Susanna (Anna Sophia Robb).

Duncan’s dislike of Trent turns out to be justified when Pam discovers that Trent has been unfaithful to her. Although Pam seems to forgive Trent initially, the movie ends with Pam choosing her son over Trent. Despite needing to leave his newfound friendships behind, Duncan has his mother back and has grown into a young man with self-confidence and a sense of his own worth.


Personal growth; relationships; infidelity


There is some violence in this movie including when Duncan shoves Trent after it is publicly revealed that Trent had been unfaithful. Trent goes to strike the young boy, but he is pulled back by another man.

Content that may disturb children

Under 5

Apart from the violent scene mentioned above, there is nothing in this movie likely to scare children in this age group. 

From 5-8

Children in this age group might be upset by the way Duncan is treated. For example:

  • Duncan’s mother frequently neglects him, spending a lot of her time with Trent.
  • Trent treats Duncan quite badly, often putting him down and making him feel inadequate – for example, he refers to him as a ‘3 out of 10’. 

From 8-13

Children in this age group might also be upset by the way Pam and Trent treat Duncan. 

Over 13

Children in this age group are unlikely to be disturbed by anything in this movie. 

Sexual references

This movie has a few sexual references. For example:

  • Owen asks Duncan, ‘When was the last time you got laid?’
  • When Owen gets Duncan a pair of swimming shorts so he can use the water slide, Owen says to Duncan, ‘Be careful, your junk will fall out’.
  • Owen talks about kissing a woman with herpes. Most of Owen’s stories aren’t true and are exaggerated for comic effect.
  • On the water slide, Owen and his staff sometimes ask women to hang on for longer than they need to, so they can spend more time staring at the women in their bikinis. 

Alcohol, drugs and other substances

This movie shows some use of substances. For example:

  • Betty offhandedly mentions to Trent that she is ‘off the wagon again’, because she is drinking alcohol. She also mentions that her older son ‘deals drugs’.
  • Adults often drink alcohol and mix cocktails. Trent’s teenage daughter also comments on how she would like a beer.
  • Owen refers to cocaine in a story that he tells several young boys in the park.
  • A young teenage girl says that she plans to ‘do drugs’ with her children when they’re older, because she’s planning to be a liberal parent.
  • At a beach party, the adults follow a young man who is holding a bag of what appears to be marijuana. The scene doesn’t show them smoking, but they later seem to be affected by the drugs. 

Nudity and sexual activity

This movie has some sexual activity and partial nudity. For example:

  • Trent slaps Pam on her bottom as she walks past him in the kitchen and says to his friends, ‘What’s not to like?’
  • Many women wear bikinis at the water park.
  • Trent and Pam kiss.
  • Duncan sees Trent secretly kissing Joan. Joan touches Trent and implies that they had sex the previous summer. 

Product placement

Nothing of concern 

Coarse language

This movie has quite a lot of coarse language. 

Ideas to discuss with your children

The Way Way Back is a satisfying and heart-warming coming-of-age story.

The movie follows Duncan as he changes from an awkward, insecure 14-year-old boy into a young adult with confidence and self-assurance. Owen is integral in shaping Duncan’s transformation, as he teaches him to follow his own path in life without worrying about what other people think. Duncan comes to realise that he can do much more than he ever imagined, and that life has more to offer than he thought.

The story has interest for teenagers, but its themes and coarse language make it unsuitable for children under 14 years.

The main messages in this movie are about:

  • finding your own path to take in life and not being somebody other people want you to be
  • letting go when the time comes, and knowing when it’s time to move on.

This movie could also give you the chance to talk with your children about real-life issues such as the:

  • consequences of infidelity
  • complexity of adult relationships
  • importance of a good work ethic and of taking things seriously when you need to.