By Dan Metcalf
Clipper Film Correspondent
The Way Way Back (Fox Searchlight)
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language, some sexual content and brief drug material.
Starring Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph, Liam James, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet, River Alexander, Zoe Levin, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash, Adam Riegler.
Written and Directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash.
Part of the awkward teenage years wouldn't be complete unless you remember summer vacations, especially with family. You head off to who-knows-where, meet strange people (most of them being relatives you rarely see), and head back to face another school year. The Way Way Back is the story of one such teenager who learns there's more to life than family dysfunction during a summer vacation.
Liam James plays 14-year-old Duncan, a boy who is often belittled by his mom's boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell). Duncan's mom Pam (Toni Collette) often takes the side of her boyfriend, even though she knows how much it hurts her son. Duncan also has to deal with Trent's snotty daughter Steph (Zoe Levin), who seems to rule all the hot girls in the beach town resort community.
Duncan also has to deal with a crazy neighbor named Betty (Allison Janney) who seems to drink a lot, speak her mind (no matter how embarrassing the subject), and abuses her poor son Peter (River Alexander), who has a strange tick in his eye and likes everything about Star Wars.
Duncan tries to make friends with Betty's daughter Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb), but his awkward ways make it tough. In his desperate attempt to escape the turmoil involving his family and their crazy friends, Duncan ends up visiting a place called Water Wizz, a water slide park managed by Owen (Sam Rockwell). Owen sees potential in Duncan and decides to help the poor kid break out of his shell by having a little fun at the park and making him an employee.
As Duncan builds friendships at the park, he also gains enough courage to make life better with his family and (as a nice bonus) Susanna.
The Way Way Back is a predictable story about growing up, but it's a film that is enjoyable all the same. Rockwell's zany performance stands out, and so does Allsion Janney. Both characters produce plenty of laughs. The Way Way Back is a great comedy about growing up, even when the adults are often less mature than the kids they are supposed to be raising.