August 28, 2013

The Way, Way Back

The Way Way Back feels like a missed opportunity at times. It tries to be a profound comedy-drama, but its simple story works against those ambitions, for the better. (Simplicity is so underrated that even the simple movie is trying to complicate itself.) This is an enjoyable comedy-drama that's full of interesting characters, but they never develop beyond the predictable. There's pouty teenager Duncan (Liam James), stuck at a New England beach town with his mother (Toni Collette) and her asinine boyfriend (Steve Carell). Then there's Susanna, a chronically annoyed teenager who lives next door with her mom (played by Allison Janney, who's funny but tries too hard to be endearingly obnoxious) and her little brother, whose lazy eye is a point of amusement for his mother.

The film is about Duncan's finding acceptance. He takes to wandering the town and eventually wanders into a water park run by Sam Rockwell and Maya Rudolph. Rockwell's Owen is a man-child who doesn't take anything seriously. But he tries too hard to be funny, and you feel the effort in every line. (He still manages to be likable much of the time.) Rudolph's part feels under-written. She has what amounts to a glorified cameo, and when she gets annoyed with Owen for being so immature, it's never addressed. She just gets over it and that's that.

I found much of The Way Way Back to be charming and refreshing. The film represents for me a conundrum. It's mostly well-acted, and the cast is appealing, as is the story. (That ending was wonderfully understated and really made up for the stupid water-slide-passing moment.) But I kept wondering why on earth Toni Collete was dating Carell's character--who's such an obvious jerk-- in the first place. She provides some shoddy reasoning: "he said it was too late, we were already in this together." It's the kind of dumb movie-writing that is all to easily relied upon when a writer is running out of credible ideas. With AnnaSophia Robb, Amanda Peet, Rob Corddry, Jim Rash, Nat Faxon, Robert Capron, and River Alexander. Directed and written by Fason and Rash.

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