“The Way Way Back” is a summer coming of age movie, in which Duncan and his mom, her newish boyfriend and his daughter, go to his beach house to spend the summer. Gosh, how can anyone in their 40s afford to take the summer off from work, aside from (perhaps) school teachers, who are generally out of work all summer anyway? Yes, we thought that. Let it go. Duncan is about as awkward as a teen without braces and glasses and a neck-gear can possibly be. He desperately needs his father, but his father is out of the picture, and he’s stuck with a toad in the body of Steve Carell, a guy that any teen would loathe to have come home and start having sex with his mother. I mean, come on. He’s bossy, he’s insulting, he’s a hypocrite, and he’s disingenuous. Kind of nice to see Carell play so against his regular likable guy type, actually.
Duncan is miserable at the beach house, and so ventures out on a bike found in the garage, one obviously outgrown by Carell’s daughter years ago. He explores the town, and as is the way with such films, he finds a group of rag-tag folks to take him in, led by Owen, who surely had dreams of being a stand-up comic, but either wasn’t good enough, or the market fell apart for stand-up. He’s always talking, cracking jokes in that almost manic, trying for a laugh way, but even though he is predictably childish and immature, he is also kind and caring, and really just wants to have a good time, and to see those around him having a good time as well. He becomes the father figure for Duncan, encouraging him to find his own way. Did I mention that Owen owns (or at least runs) a water park? Well, he does, and he hires Duncan to take care of miscellaneous jobs, like setting up beach chairs, cleaning up barf, whatever is required.
Toni Collette does a great job as Duncan’s mom, Sam Rockwell is charming as Owen, and Allison Janney is the always drunk next door neighbor. I thought they all did a great job, but none so great as Liam James, who played the awkward Duncan with such a pitch perfect note, you just wanted to give him a hug and tell him that it will be OK. Maybe not now, perhaps not this summer, but someday.
I won’t tell you any more, except to say that this sleeper of a film deserves some attention. Involved are the studio behind “Juno”, and the writers won an Oscar for “The Descendents”. No, it’s not Oscar material, but it is definitely charming, and worth your time and money at the box office.