The Way Way Back is directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, the screenwriters for Alexander Payne's The Descendants, and their new movie has a similar feel to it: quirky but realistic characters in a beachfront setting comically dealing with problems that are not exactly funny.
The Way Way Back is about a teenage boy who hasn't quite figured out how to be engaging socially, who is being mistreated in a casual way by his overbearing idiot stepfather and mostly ignored by his mother. And the teenage boy is (gasp!) actually played by a teenage kid – a casting decision that already signals that Nat & Jim are more interested in realism and story than they are in selling tickets or doing things in a way that would be more conducive to the studio system.
I'm not saying the film doesn't have its share of ridiculous characters or situations. (Allison Janney is hilarious as an overbearing drunk divorcée neighbor.) But the majority of the film is more interested in situations that are funny because they come out of real life and pertain to real problems.
I should note, too, that Sam Rockwell just kills it in absolutely everything he is in. The man can do no wrong. Put him in all movies and let him do his thing. He is fantastic.
And this isn't a teach-me-a-lesson sentimental Judd Apatow movie, either. There are no lessons to learn in The Way Way Back, only techniques for surmounting the times in our life when we experience growing pains. And this is something we can all do with a little bit more. Laughter doesn't solve everything, certainly. But it sure helps.