Movies: The Way Way Back

The Way Way Back is a coming-of-age movie. But it’s different — and better — than most.

Duncan (Liam James) mjust spend the summer in the country with his mom and her obnoxious boyfriend.
Photo by Claire Folger – © 2013 – WWBSP LLC.

This is the story of 14 year-old Duncan (a very good Liam James) whose mom Pam (Toni Collette) decides he and she will spend the summer with her boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) and his daughter in his country home.

Trent is overbearing, rude, obnoxious and eminently cringeworthy — a departure for Carell that he carries off very well — and from the moment we meet him as he’s driving Duncan to the country we dislike him. He’s the kind of man who calls a kid who clearly dislikes him, “Buddy,” and who believes he’s a failure and, therefore, will goad young people into following what he believes is a recipe for success. For example, he informs Duncan that on a scale of one to 10 (although Duncan assesses himself as a six) Duncan is a three and he provides instructions on how to raise that number. Jerk.

Once in the summer house, we meet the neighbors. There’s Betty (Allison Janney in a nomination-worthy performance), a genial, disappointed always drunk divorcee with a beautiful daughter, Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb). Also showing up are Trent’s good friends Kip (Rob Corddry) and Joan (Amanda Peet), a genial couple with secrets.

What saves Duncan is his meeting with Owen (Sam Rockwell), manager of Water Wizz, the park where Duncan ultimately finds the only home he’ll have all summer. Among the employees at the park are the genial Roddy (Nat Faxon) and the unhappy Lewis (Jim Rash). Faxon and Rash also co-wrote and directed the movie. They wrote The Descendants and this is their first time directing. One can only hope they’ll do it again. Soon.

Although it takes place in the present, Th Way Way Back recalls a happier America of the not-too-distant past where people drove station wagons and could retreat to the country for an entire summer. There’s a comfort food feel to the film and it is, because of this, very charming.

Below is the trailer for Last Vegas, a film starring Michael Douglas, Robert DeNiro, Kevin Kline and Morgan Freeman, about three 60-something men who decide to throw a bachelor party in Las Vegas for their last remaining single friend. It’s scheduled to open on November 1.