The Way Back
Author: Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
Writer’s Potential: 7
Logline:An awkward, depressed teenager takes a job at a waterpark to escape his obnoxious step-family.
Synopsis:DUNCAN, 15, stares into space. He’s stuck in the very back of the family station wagon, behind the cooler and luggage, staring out the back window. TRENT, his mid-40s stepfather, asks Duncan to rate himself on a scale of 1-10. Duncan rates himself a 6; Trent counter that he’s a 3, because he spent all summer sitting on his ass, friendless and boring. Duncan puts on an iPod and tunes Trent out.
The family arrives in a run-down beach town, pulls up to their rented beach house. BETTY, the annoying mother renting the house next door, rushes to the car and fills them in on all the gossip about their rental neighbors and herself. She’s had a bad year — her husband came out of the closet and left her, her oldest son is a hippie burnout, her middle child (SUSANNA, 17, who catches Duncan’s eye) is moody and taking her father’s side, and her youngest, PETER, had an eye surgery gone bad that requires him to wear an eyepatch that he refuses to wear. They finally get rid of Betty, and Duncan’s mom, PAM, offers him and stepsister STEPH beer. Duncan’s repulsed by her behavior. Steph is already on her way to the beach, so Pam insists she take disinterested Duncan with her. Neither wants to, but Pam insists, so Stpeh drags Duncan along
Duncan watches Steph flirt with shallow CHAD until he can’t take it anymore; he gets up and leaves, passing Peter. Betty immediately rushes out and chastises Peter for not wearing the eyepatch. Peter tries to ignore her and discuss Star Wars action figure with Duncan, but she shoos him back into the house. Duncan humiliates himself in front of Susanna by singing along to an Avril Lavigne song at the top of his lungs. That night, Pam and Trent get hammered with neighbors KIP and JOAN SMYTHE. Pam forces Duncan to dance with her, then Joan joins in. Duncan bails out as quickly as possible. He bumps into Susanna, who playfully mocks him about the Avril Lavigne thing. He bumbles through a conversation and leaves feeling more embarrassment. Duncan’s awakened at 3:30AM by his drunk, laughing parents.
The next morning, Duncan finds a note taped to the kitchen counter, saying they’re going to sleep in. Annoyed, Duncan pulls a hot-pink girls’ bike from the house’s storage shed and rides into town. He goes to a gas station with an arcade, where he sees OWEN (late 20s) playing Pac-Man. He has a blue shirt with a “Wet ‘N Wild Waterpark” logo on it. He tells Duncan not to distract him — he’s having the game of his life. Duncan notices he’s only on the first board. Another guy in a blue shirt yells for Owen that it’s time to get to work. Duncan takes over the game and dies quickly. Later, Duncan enters to find Trent mocking Peter in front of the Smythes. That night, the adults get trashed again, leaving Duncan to clean up the mess they’ve left in the kitchen. The next morning, it’s just as messy. Frustrated, Duncan rides to the waterpark.
Duncan sees Owen standing with CAITLIN, the bossy teen who runs the park. Duncan just flops down on a lounge chair and watches. When the park closes, Duncan rides back home. Susanna catches him on the girls’ bike. She’s waiting for her dad to call. They have a flirty conversation before Duncan goes in the house. Duncan’s yelled at by Trent for making Pam worry. Next day, Duncan’s still sitting on the lounge chair, watching, when Owen approaches. Owen gives Duncan the grand tour, introducing him to all the employees and regular customers — SEMI, 30s, who rents swim-trunks; ACE, 30s, who goes after “cougars” (middle-aged widowers looking for younger men); KYLE, NEIL, and JASON, who are obsessed with being able to pass someone on the water slide; BARRY, a maintenance guy who spends most of his time having sex with inner tubes; a group of sexy SUNBATHING TEENS who have the hots for Owen; and finally, HOT ROD, who runs the Devil’s Peak, the water slide to end all slides. Owen tries to convince Duncan to slide down it, but Duncan’s afraid. Owen slides down with a beautiful woman, and at the bottom, he pretends to be all tangled up so he can cop a feel and rub against her.
That night, Owen offers Duncan a ride home in his convertible. Duncan reluctantly accepts. He asks why Duncan would go to the waterpark when he’s right next to the beach; Duncan says there isn’t much for him there. Owen offers Duncan a job working at the park, doing odd jobs. Duncan accepts enthusiastically. At home, Pam braids Steph’s hair. She insists that Duncan put in an appearance at Betty’s Fourth of July clambake. Unenthusiastically, Duncan shows up. He finds Peter playing with his action figures, and Susanna shows up and asks them to chase ghost crabs. They go, and Susanna explains to Duncan that this is something she used to do with her father. She asks why Duncan’s acting so sullen, and he says he’s pissed at his mom. She nods, saying it’s hard when parents act younger than they are. Duncan nods. Duncan tells her he never knew his real dad, but Pam’s only been with Trent for three years. He seems disinterested in being a dad. She asks where he keeps going on the bike, but Duncan won’t tell her. Susanna says it’s okay.
Later that night, Duncan drops Susanna and Peter off when he hears laughing beside his own house. He spots Trent and Joan making out and taking it a little further than that. Trent almost spots Duncan, but he hides. He’s livid but afraid to say anything. The next morning, Duncan’s about to tell Pam when Trent shows up. Duncan leaves for his first day working at the waterpark. Caitlin immediately groans that a breakdancing crew has invaded again. Owen sends Duncan to investigate it. Duncan tries to break them up and take their cardboard, but the leader of the group, JUSTIN, makes Duncan show off his dance moves first. Duncan has no dance moves; he humiliates himself, but then a beautiful breakdancing woman shows him some moves. He’s still terrible, but slightly less so. Then he realizes Owen has set this whole thing up. Everyone cheers for Duncan, though, and he relaxes and starts having fun. This jumpstarts a musical montage in which Duncan balances the fun he’s having at the waterpark with the misery he faces at home.
After the montage, Duncan is helping Hot Rod manage the slide and helping the nerds time themselves to come up with a “passing” strategy. Caitlin yells at Duncan for letting them go on the slide so close together. She’s afraid of a lawsuit. The next morning, Pam and Duncan share another awkward moment, interrupted again by boorish Trent. Outside, Duncan overhears Susanna and Betty fighting again. He invites her to go to the waterpark, and she agrees, spending the day watching him work, have fun, and be somewhat respected. Owen and Hot Rod congratulate Duncan on bringing such an attractive girl as his “date.” They leave Duncan alone to manage the slide, and the three nerds rush Duncan to get down the slide at the same time — and they get stuck. Owen and Hot Rod return and help Duncan get them out, but Caitlin’s livid. Susanna watches Caitlin dress down Duncan. She overhears Owen mention keeping his job a secret from his parents; she asks if Pam knows. He says no. She’s impressed. Duncan invites Susanna to an employees-only party that night, but she turns him down — offering, instead, to spend another day with him at the park.
At home, Duncan sees Joan and Trent flirting with each other. He grabs a soda, takes a swig, and puts it back. Trent yells at him for always drinking half a soda and putting it back. Later, Duncan leaves his bedroom door hanging wide open and makes sure to slam the door loudly when he leaves for the party. Peter catches Duncan on his bike and forces him to take Peter to the party. Everyone at the waterpark is impressed with Peter’s eyepatch. Duncan gets drunk and breaks down in front of Owen about his stepfather, telling him about the “3” incident that opened the movie. He starts bawling. Next morning, Owen makes Duncan and Peter coffee. They ride home, and Peter — newly confident from thinking he got laid (he didn’t) — browbeats Betty. Duncan walks in the house to find his bedroom door closed and a note that they’re on the beach. Trent catches him on the way, trying to be the nice guy by covering for him.
That night, they go to a party hosted by the Smythes. Joan pulls Trent onto the dance floor; Duncan watches them dance, watches Pam’s heartbroken reaction, watches Steph inheriting the same bad traits (laughing while telling her friends about Chad’s angry reaction to her cheating on him), and suddenly goes off on Trent, revealing the affair to everyone, then attacking Pam for sitting idly by and letting this happen. Pam begins to cry and runs away. Duncan grabs a six-pack of beer and stomps off to the beach by himself. Susanna follows, trying to convince Duncan things are probably a little more complicated than what he sees. Duncan has some hard words for her about choosing her philandering father over her injured mother.
Duncan tries to apologize to Pam, but she doesn’t want to hear it. The next morning, she wakes him up and tells him to pack his things — they’re all leaving, thanks to the humiliation he’s caused. As they pack the car, Duncan gets the chance to apologize to Susanna. He says he hopes they’ll be back next summer — without Trent and Steph. Duncan leaps out of the back of the station wagon and makes a run for the park. He and Owen go down Devil’s Peak, with Duncan passing him. Everyone cheers, while Pam, Trent, and Steph look baffled. Duncan thanks Owen for everything, then the family leaves. While riding, Pam goes to the back — intentionally kicking Trent in the head — and rides next to Duncan behind the luggage.
Comments:This script has a nice story at its core — a teenage nerd learning to gain confidence in himself with the help of an older friend, who basically assumes the “father figure” role for wounded Duncan. It’s a strong story that works well throughout. However, the writers could do a better job of strengthening the idea of Owen-as-father by juxtaposing him more directly with Trent and having him impart something resembling wisdom. He comes across as a fun-loving idiot, but he doesn’t spend any time explaining his life philosophy or giving Duncan any other reason to look up to him. Being nice to him isn’t enough.
At the same time, does Trent really need to go so far over the line? It might be more interesting if he were just an ordinary asshole — he doesn’t need to cheat. Scenes like Trent’s attack of Duncan over soda are more subtle and complex; Trent doesn’t need to be so hostile, but he’s not exactly wrong, either. Painting him this way makes him a more interesting villain, and it underscores an idea of Duncan resenting the guy merely for not being his real father, or any kind of legitimate father figure. He doesn’t need to cheat to be a bad father, and it gives Duncan an easy out for hating him. Too easy.
However, for the most part, I liked this script. The dialogue isn’t as funny as it could be, but it has a natural rhythm and brisk pace. The characters — aside from the complaints above — have about as much development as they need. All of these people, even shallow Steph and the crew at the waterpark, feel like real people. It’s not perfect, but it’s an above average comedy with some interesting dramatic elements.
It seems geared mainly toward teens and 20-somethings, but it has an ’80s throwback feel (with elements reminiscent of movies like One Crazy Summer and Summer Rental, as well as the broken-home parental-resentment themes that cropped up in many teen comedies of this era) that will likely appeal to an even wider audience.