A person can come of age at any time. But in the movies, a lot of that growing up seems packed into the summer months. Especially for boys. Thats when a lad can hang out on the beach, come to some sort of arrangement with girls and endure entirely too much of his family for his own good.
The Way, Way Back is a nostalgic coming-of-age dramedy from the folks who wrote The Descendants. Its about a shy, put-upon lad, his long-suffering mother, the moms difficult new beau and the vacation where a lot of these issues come to a head.
Liam James is 14-year-old Duncan, whose relationship with Trent (Steve Carell), the well-off creep whom mother Pam (Toni Collette) is living with, is summed up on the drive to Trents beach house. Size yourself up, Trent says, and tell me how youd rank on a scale of one to 10. The kid shrugs, hems and haws, and says a six.
I think youre a three.
Trent is a bully, a guy moving this relationship with Pam and Duncan and Trents daughter from a previous marriage into a family. A long stay at his house on the Massachusetts shore, where Trent has old friends and history, will be the test. A boozy, profane neighbor, Betty (Allison Janney), and the fun couple Joan (Amanda Peet) and Kip (Rob Corddry), ensure that the kids will get an eyeful of adults reliving their more irresponsible past the 80s, with pot, beer and infidelity in the mix.
Lovely Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb) catches Duncans eye. But its not until he falls into the clutches of slacker smart-aleck Owen (Sam Rockwell) that things look up. Owen lures Duncan into working at Water Wizz, the aged water park that he manages whenever he manages to be in the mood to manage it. Duncan learns to ogle bikini babes on the water slides and how to sarcastically win over that special someone in Owens case, Caitlyn (Maya Rudolph). Over the course of a few weeks, Duncans secret job teaches him his true self-worth.
What actors turned Oscar-winning screenwriters (and now directors) Nat Faxon and Jim Rash have done is mash up assorted vacation comedies especially Meatballs into a mother-son vs. mothers boyfriend melodrama. Rockwell has the amusing goof-off mentor role that Bill Murray played at the beginning of his career, and Collette and Carell et al act out some of the darker corners of Beaches and Little Miss Sunshine.