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Movie Review

The Way Way Back

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Director: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash

Starring: Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Liam James, Sam Rockwell, AnnaSophia Robb, Allison Janney, Maya Rudolph

Duration: 103 minutes

Certificate 12A

1 of 3 Liam James and Sam Rockwell make unlikely buddies
Liam James and Sam Rockwell make unlikely buddies
2 of 3 Rockwell is great as wise-cracking water park employee Doug
Rockwell is great as wise-cracking water park employee Doug
3 of 3 Carrel and Collete play weary and wary partners, Trent and Pam
Carrel and Collete play weary and wary partners, Trent and Pam

Nat Faxon and Jim Rash’s coming of age comedy/drama may start with all the well-tuned quirks of an indie-llectual flick for chin-strokers but it has more heart and laughs than most painfully self-conscious studies of oddballs in crisis.

It comes from the same stable as The Descendants, Little Miss Sunshine and the slightly irksome Juno and the cast is made of up hypocrites, care-worn moms and geek kids who each find themselves going through periods of transformation and eventual redemption.

Toni Collette and Steve Carell play Pam and Trent, boyfriend and girlfriend and both survivors of failed marriages who take their respective kids, bitchy Mean Girls prototype Steph (Zoe Levin) and cripplingly shy 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James), to Trent’s beach house for the summer break. Trent is an over-bearing, passive-aggressive bully while Collette as Pam turns in another portrayal of grace under pressure as she frets over her shy son and agonises over her choice in partner.

However, the movie mostly belongs to James as Duncan, the monosyllabic introvert who seems resigned to spending his enforced holiday missing his father, listening to REO Speedwagon on his iPhone, and near combusting every time he spots his pretty neighbour Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb) in the next beach house down.

Duncan finds sanctuary when he discovers a local water park run by the wisecracking and charismatic Owen who is played with relish by the normally lugubrious Sam Rockwell. Here, Duncan begins finding himself and opting out of life at home where the adult world is slowly disintegrating. The kids are, of course, far more mature than the grown-ups and a scatty Allison Janney is great as a ghastly lush who gets some of the best laughs as she chugs margaritas non-stop while insouciantly delivering inappropriate comments.

It’s a gentle and well-observed piece that adroitly portrays anxious teens bumping up against an adult world which is just as riddled with insecurities but guided by the grim truism that muddling through is the way of the world.

James is excellent as the dweeb who undergoes a transformation that one golden summer and it’s also good to see Carell break free of stereotype to play the repellent Trent. Rockwell as the rapid-fire smart ass is strangely magnetic and directors Faxon and Rash also have their share of sniggers playing small parts as Water Wizz employees, sleazeball Roddy and neurotic Lewis.

It owes a considerable debt to the teen movies of the eighties (Meatballs anyone?) and you may risk being fatally wounded by a very blunt metaphor about how ghost grabs have 360 vision but this is a funny and likeable film that wears its heart on its sleeve without bleeding all over you. 

Alan Corr

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