Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Way, Way Back

The Way, Way Back is an above average example of a familiar type of movie, one in which a teenager grows up and gets some adult perspective over the course of a summer. 14-year old Duncan (Liam James) isn't happy about spending the summer with his mother Pam (Toni Collette) and her boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) at Trent's beach house. Casting Carell as a jerk was a smart choice by co-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, the Oscar-winning writers of The Descendants. Trent insults Duncan's shyness in the opening scene, and we instantly feel like we don't know what's ahead. Faxon and Rash have cast their movie well; the presence of Carell, Collette, Amanda Peet (who wrote this), and especially Allison Janney as a drunken neighbor turns the beach house scenes into a sour, uncomfortable hell for Duncan. It isn't surprising that Duncan would want to escape, nor is it surprising that he would find a friend in Owen (Sam Rockwell), the garrulous, goofball manager of an aging nearby water park. I was waiting with some dread for the scene in which Owen turns out to be a disappointment, but Faxon and Rash sidestep this moment by making him a man acutely aware of his own flaws. (The always welcome Maya Rudolph plays the woman who wants to straighten Owen out.) The ways in which Duncan gains confidence (impromptu break dancing, sneaking off to a party at which he's forbidden to drink) are fresh and honest and his attraction to a local girl (AnnaSophia Robb) feels like the beginning of something rather than a screenwriter working out an old crush. The Way, Way Back sneaks up with its emotional honesty, and the final moment between Duncan and Pam is well-earned. This is a movie that will win you over.

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