Way Way Back, The

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Not recommended under 14, PG to 15 (Themes; Coarse language)

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Way Way Back, The
  • a review of Way Way Back, The completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 1 August 2013.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 14 Not reccommended due to themes and coarse language
Children 14 to 15 Parental guidance recommended due to themes and coarse language

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines. Other classification advice (OC) is provided where the Australian film classification is not available.

Name of movie: Way Way Back, The
Classification: M
Consumer advice lines: Coarse language
Length: 103 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

The Way Way Back is a comedy-drama that follows fourteen-year-old Duncan (Liam James) as he goes on summer vacation with his mother Pam (Toni Collette) and her boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell). Despite Pam seeing only the good sides of her partner, Trent’s treatment of Duncan causes the teenager to escape their beach house whenever possible.

After riding his bike into town one day, Duncan comes across the local water park where he meets the eccentric and amusingly irresponsible Owen (Sam Rockwell), the owner of Water Wizz. Owen takes Duncan under his wing, hiring him as a helper and providing him solace from 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, as well as a young girl named Susanna (Anna Sophia Robb).

Duncan’s dislike of Trent is eventually revealed to be completely justified when Pam discovers that Trent has been unfaithful to her. Although it seems that Pam forgives him initially, the film ends with Pam choosing her son over her relationship with 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


Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Personal growth; relationships; infidelity

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is some violence in this movie including:

  • Duncan shoves Trent after it is revealed publically that Trent had been unfaithful. Trent goes to strike the young boy, but he is pulled back by another man.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

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

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

Children in this age group may be upset by the way Duncan is treated, for example:

  • Duncan’s mother frequently neglects him, spending much of her time with Trent
  • Trent treats Duncan quite badly, often putting him down and making him feel inadequate (e.g. he refers to him as a ‘3 out of 10’).

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

Children in this age group may also be upset by the way Duncan is treated by his mother and Trent

Thirteen and overinfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

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

Product placement

None of concern

Sexual references

There are a few sexual references in this movie, including:

  • 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, he tells him “Be careful, your junk will fall out”.
  • Owen refers to kissing a woman with herpes –most of his anecdotes are false and merely humorous over-exaggeration.
  • On the water slide, Owen and his staff sometimes jokingly ask women to hold for unnecessary lengths of time, so they can stare at them for longer while they stand in their bikinis.

Nudity and sexual activity

There is some sexual activity and partial nudity in this movie, including:

  • 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 are seen wearing bikinis at the water park, and several men are seen topless as well.
  • Trent and Pam kiss.
  • Duncan sees Trent secretly kissing Joan – Joan touches Trent and implies that they had sex the previous summer.

Use of substances

There is some use of substances in this movie, including:

  • Betty offhandedly mentions to Trent that she is “off the wagon again” as she is drinking alcohol. She also mentions that her older son “deals drugs”.
  • Throughout the film, the adults are seen frequently drinking alcohol and mixing 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 are older, because she will be a liberal parent.
  • At the beach party, the adults follow a young man who is holding a bag of what appears to be marijuana – viewers do not see them smoke, but they later appear to be high.

Coarse language

There is a significant amount of coarse language in the film, including:

  • Duncan says to Trent “Go screw her, asshole”
  • Owen tells Duncan “You can’t buy into that shit, you’ve got to go your own way.”
  • Trent’s daughter tells Susanna “Thanks for ditching me, bitch” after Susanna spends the day with Duncan.
  • Upset after a fight with Trent, Pam storms off after playing a board game and says “Fucking Candyland”.
  • A random boy in the water park tells Owen to “Shut up, jackass”. Another calls him a “dumbass”, while another says “Screw you, Owen”.
  • Duncan refers to Trent as “a dick”.
  • Several characters also engage in name-calling, using words such as “perve”, “crack-addled male dick”, “jerk”, “idiot”

In a nutshell

The Way Way Back is a satisfying, heart-warming coming-of-age story. The film follows Duncan as he changes from an awkward, insecure fourteen-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 and to try and not worry about what other people think of him. Duncan progressively realises that he is capable of far more than he could have possibly imagined, and that life has much more to offer than he previously thought. The story has interest for teens, but its themes and coarse language make it unsuitable for under 14s.

The main messages in the film are:

  • The importance of finding your own path to take in life, and not becoming the person who others want you to be.
  • Being able to let go when the time comes, and knowing when it’s time to move on.

This movie could also give parents the opportunity to discuss with their children attitudes and behaviours, and their real-life consequences, such as:

  • The consequences of infidelity.
  • The issue of complex adult relationships, and decisions related to forgiveness or ending a relationship.
  • The importance of a good work ethic, and of taking things seriously when the situation calls for it.