Save this content for laterSave this content on your device for later, even while offline Sign in with FacebookSign in with your Facebook account Close

MOVIE REVIEWS: 'Way Back' a gentle coming of age story where adults steal the show

By: roger moore McClatchy Newspapers
July 26, 2013
0
photo - This publicity photo released by Fox Searchlight shows Liam James, front, and, rear from left, Steve Carell andToni Collette, in a scene from the film, "The Way, Way Back." (AP Photo/Fox Searchlight, Claire Folger)
This publicity photo released by Fox Searchlight shows Liam James, front, and, rear from left, Steve Carell andToni Collette, in a scene from the film, "The Way, Way Back." (AP Photo/Fox Searchlight, Claire Folger) 

A person can come of age at any time. But in the movies, a lot of that growing up seems packed into the summer months.

Especially for boys. That's when a lad can hang out on the beach, come to some sort of arrangement with girls and endure entirely too much of his closely observed family for his own good.

"The Way Way Back" is a semi-nostalgic coming-of-age dramedy from the folks who wrote "The Descendants." It's about a shy, put-upon lad, his long-suffering mother, the mom's difficult new beau and the vacation where a lot of these issues come to a head.

Liam James is 14-year-old Duncan, and his relationship with Trent (Steve Carell), the well-off creep mother Pam (Toni Collette) is living with, is summed up on the drive to Trent's beach house. Size yourself up, Trent says, and tell me how you'd rank on a scale of one to 10. The kid shrugs, hems and haws, and says a "six."

"I think you're a three."

Trent is a bully, a guy moving this relationship with Pam and Duncan and Trent's daughter from a previous marriage into "a family." A long stay at his house on the Massachusetts shore, where Trent has old friends and "history," will be the test. A boozy, profane neighbor Betty (Allison Janney) and the fun couple, Joan (Amanda Peet) and Kip (Rob Corddry) ensure that the kids will get an eyeful of adults reliving their more irresponsible past - the '80s - with pot, beer and infidelity in the mix.

Lovely Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb) catches Duncan's eye. But it's not until he falls into the clutches of slacker smart-aleck Owen (Sam Rockwell) that things look up. He lures Duncan into working at Water Wizz, the aged water park that he manages - whenever he manages to be in the mood to manage it. Duncan learns to ogle bikini babes on the water slides and how to sarcastically win over that special someone - in Owen's case, Caitlyn (Maya Rudolph). Over the course of a few weeks, Duncan's secret job teaches him his true self-worth.

What actors turned Oscar-winning screenwriters (and now directors) Nat Faxon and Jim Rash have done is mash up assorted vacation comedies - especially "Meatballs" - into a mother-son vs. mother's boyfriend melodrama. Rockwell has the amusing goof-off mentor role that Bill Murray played at the beginning of his career, and Collette and Carell et al act out some of the darker corners of "Beaches" and "Little Miss Sunshine."

Both writer-directors have chewy bit acting roles (as water park employees) in the film, which further adds to the scruffy, offhanded feel of "The Way Way Back."

Like "The Kings of Summer," the kids often take a back seat to the adult players here, with Carell, in a rare "bad guy" role, creating a fully formed jerk with none of the broad caricature touches that made his career. Collette makes Pam a pitiable figure - smart enough to see who Trent is, too broken to think she deserves any better. And Rockwell, playing another in a long line of larger-than-life eccentrics, turns the frustrated stand-up comic Owen in a slacker icon - all, "Don't let the Dahmer glasses fool you" on introducing Duncan to the concession stand clerk (Jim Rash), and random bits of "Don't die wondering" advice.

"Way Way Back" tries too hard to be all things to all audiences - kids learning about love and life, adults seeing themselves, boozily nostalgic for their youth. But the performances and the ready supply of one-liners make this an amusing look at a new generation getting lost down memory lane.

Register to the Colorado Springs Gazette
Incognito Mode Your browser is in Incognito mode

You vanished!

We welcome you to read all of our stories by signing into your account. If you don't have a subscription, please subscribe today for daily award winning journalism.

Register to the Colorado Springs Gazette
Register to the Colorado Springs Gazette
Subscribe to the Colorado Springs Gazette

It appears that you value local journalism. Thank you.

Subscribe today for unlimited digital access with 50% fewer ads for a faster browsing experience.

Already a Subscriber? LOGIN HERE

Subscribe to the Colorado Springs Gazette

It appears that you value local journalism. Thank you.

Subscribe today for unlimited digital access with 50% fewer ads for a faster browsing experience.

Subscribe to the Colorado Springs Gazette

Some news is free.
Exceptional journalism takes time, effort and your support.

Already a Subscriber? LOGIN HERE

articles remaining
×
Thank you for your interest in local journalism.
Gain unlimited access, 50% fewer ads and a faster browsing experience.