Writers/Directors: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Starring: Liam James, Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph, AnnaSophia Robb, Amanda Peet, Rob Corddry, Allison Janney
I know I would be pissed if someone rated me a 3 on a scale of 1 to 10. That is how fourteen-year-old Duncan (James) is rated by his mom, Pam's (Collette), new boyfriend, Trent (Carell). This depressing discussion is the start of Duncan’s summer vacation as he forced to spend the summer at Trent’s beach house. Trent’s blunt and smug personality does not mesh well with someone like Duncan who is introverted and quiet and tends to keep his feelings bottled up. Even though he is with his mom and sister, Duncan feels trapped as he would rather spend the summer with his father. What he does not realize is that his father has practically abandoned him.
Their arrival at the beach house is greeted by neighbor Betty (Janney) who is loud, brash, and practically three sheets to the wind at any given moment. Is a cocktail ever not in her hands? Being the prick that he is, Trent seems to boss Duncan around but at the same time does not really care about having private family time. Pam forces family time with a game of Candyland only for it to turn south when Trent is far too rigid with the rules. She struggles with trying to make her relationship with Trent work out while watching the affects it has on Duncan. He finds it far more important to be engaged with Joan (Peet) and Kip (Corddry), another couple with a beach house nearby.
Duncan finds solace and friendships along the way to combat the attitude and behavior Trent gives him. Owen (Rockwell) is the “cool” guy with a fun car who has not really matured. Susanna (Robb) is the cute girl next door who is actually nice and approachable after their first awkward meeting. Duncan escapes the dreaded beach house each day by biking to Water Wizz Water Park. At first it was just a place to get away, but his new pal Owen hires him to do basic pool duties and cleanup. Owen, his manager/girlfriend Caitlyn (Rudolph), and the rest of the Water Wizz employees make him feel at home and welcome all of his quirks and oddities. His daily trips are kept a secret from his family. Why bother telling people and potentially ruin the one good thing he has going for him. The co-writers and directors of the film, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, have supporting roles as water park employees.
The Way Way Back is another example of those touching and inspiring dramedies like Little Miss Sunshine and Juno that make you feel all good inside after you watch it. The screenplay by Faxon and Rash, who also co-wrote The Descendants, has a good mix of really funny moments (any scene with the always fabulous Allison Janney) against the constant tension with the Carell character and the inner turmoil Duncan feels. Even though these characters may not seem all that original, they have lined up an excellent ensemble of actors that make them believable as people you can feel a connection to from your own life. Carell and Rockwell play outside their typically range. I sometimes have a thin line for Carell especially when it borders on over-the-top comedic antics. He is fantastic and perfectly scuzzy in this role. I applaud him for taking on such a prickly bastard. Rockwell makes his character out to be more than just some beach bum who never grew up. He has heart and well-being and really cares for Duncan.
Any movie that can bring me back to my childhood in some way or another wins a place in my heart. I remember being that awkward teen that was grumpy about going up to the cabin as it got in the way of spending the summer with my friends. I now relish in those weekends that involve cabin getaways. I did not have a water park, but I had the video store where I spent my days getting paid to watch movies and restock the shelves. This is one of the better films I have seen all year. It has that classic summer movie feel that has heart, meaning, and funny characters without feeling too dopey or quirky for its own good.
RATING: *****(5 out of 5 stars)