Between The Kings of Summer, Mud, and now The Way, Way Back, Summer 2013 is chock full of indie coming of age films.
14 year old Duncan (Liam James, best recognized as young Shawn Spencer from Psych) is off on a beach vacation he wants nothing to do with. Between his emotionally unstable mother (Toni Collette), her new jerk of a boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell), his brooding daughter (Zoe Levin) things are not looking up for the awkward teen. Trent’s beach friends (Allison Janney and Rob Corrdry) are not an improvement.
Other than this one girl (AnnaSophia Robb) who’s not half bad, maybe, life around the beach community is pretty awful for Duncan. Searching for a respite from all that is making his summer miserable, Duncan finds himself at Water Wizz water park where he makes some unlikely friends (Maya Rudolph and Sam Rockwell). The Way, Way Back is basically Adventureland if Adventureland was any good.
Though Steve Carell is a top billed co-star, this is not a Steve Carell movie, at all. Carell tends to play the slightly jerkish characters a lot, but despite being a bit of a jerk, he’s usually a bit likeable too. Not here. Playing against his usual character, Trent is pretty much a complete dirtbag. It’s obvious from the very first scene, and he only gets worse. It’s nice to see him in an atypical role.
Young James is technically the star here, and he holds is own quite well. The movie works best, though, by embracing the whole cast and making them all quite interesting. It’s not an ensemble piece, but the various characters in Duncan’s life all play an important, and entertaining, role.
The movie is pretty depressing at parts, mirroring the struggles of a young teenage introvert, attempting to find himself when no one else seems to be willing to do so. Most of the film is a pretty melancholy flavor of sweetness with a healthy dose of slightly dark comedy. I was afraid this was going to end up being one of those movies that relies too much on being emotionally real and raw, but forgets that sometimes people want to enjoy their films as well as feel something from them. Thankfully there are bright spots, including the end note, leaving you happy more often than depressed.
The story is somewhat stereotypical of the the “coming of age indie flick” genre, but that doesn’t take much away from a well done movie with excellent performances from all. This isn’t going to be an instant crowd pleaser for the masses, but I think it will be enjoyed by most who give it a chance.
Mrs. Hamster did not attend this screening.
My Rating: Four out of Five Hats
The Way, Way Back dives into 19 theaters, July 5