Sunday, July 21, 2013


Co-writer/directors Jim Rash and Nat Faxon have delivered a simple summer pleasure and perfect alternative fare for the season with their "The Way, Way Back," a less major work than their co-written Oscar-winning "The Descendants" under the direction of Alexander Payne. The movie is like a mix of the coming-of-age turmoil found in "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" and the eclectic environment of "Adventureland" and is pegged as a comedy hailing from the team behind "Little Miss Sunshine." The lighthearted comedy, which is more pleasant and delightful than laugh-out-loud funny, is kept from being too frivolous by actually daring to break your heart bringing up honest truths about teenage angst and adolescence caught adrift in a family torn apart. It's drama that fittingly plays out like the beating, rushing currents of a wave pool.

Fourteen-year-old Duncan (Liam James) goes with his mom, Pam (Toni Collette), and new stepdad, Trent (Steve Carell), to a breezy beach house to spend the summer. While it may seem like a calming getaway, that's not the case for Duncan who's at battle with Trent whose oppressing attempt to remold a new family comes off as condescending and downright mean-spirited. Upon first arriving to the summer getaway, we're introduced to Allison Janney's boozy Betty, a whirlwind of a woman who's playful, sexual energy lights up the screen. She also comes with her daughter, Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb), who looks as miserable to be there as Duncan.

While Duncan's parents laze around wining and dining with fellow vacationing couple, Kip (Rob Corddry) and Joan (Amanda Peet), Duncan takes refuge at the nearby waterpark, Water Wizz, where he meets an eclectic cast of characters (Nat Faxon, Jim Rash and Maya Rudolph are among them) lead by the ringleader of the bunch, Owen, played effortlessly by Sam Rockwell. The actor has always been a commanding talent, wrapping his characters in personalities full of wonderful, endearing oddities. His Owen, a stand-in father figure and role model for Duncan, is no different. He shines and brings newcomer Liam James' character right out of his shell.

Also notable here is Carell playing perhaps for the first time a realistically unlikable character. He's unbeknownst to himself completely selfish and controlling. His relationship with new girlfriend Pam is like high school love and this summer vacation like a spring break for adults. After coasting along amiably, there's a moment in the film's third act that strikes a chord and might even put a lump in your throat as tensions come to a head and the reality of a newly forced family situation emerges. It raises the film's screenplay above some otherwise trite and non-organic moments sprinkled throughout.

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