Critics' Pick

The Way, Way Back (PG-13)

Drama 103 July 26, 2013
By Inkoo Kang
The Way, Way Back is a crowd-pleasing summer treat, predictable in its sweetness but satisfying all the same. It's like the multinationally branded ice cream sandwich you get on any pier in the Western Hemisphere--market-tested to appeal to as many people as possible (but you don't mind gobbling up). Though the script includes bits and pieces of writer-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash's real childhoods, it's a slick debut that feels like a recycling of familiar coming-of-age materials. The film's sympathetic but indistinct center is 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James), a hunched, shambling, inarticulate boy whose loneliness weighs him down as much as his slightly out-of-date Bieber bangs. He's an everyteen we're supposed to feel sorry for—his parents are divorced, his mom (Toni Collette) has found herself a dick boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell), he doesn't have the sense not to wear long pants to the beach-- but he's so devoid of personality that we wish happiness for him only in the reflexive way we want to pet a sorry-looking puppy. Duncan is driven into further solitude on one of those summer trips that's really a test of emotional fortitude: an extended stay at Trent's beach house. Like an angel in gas-station aviators, in swoops Owen (Sam Rockwell), the slacker manager of the dated-as-disco Water Wizz water park, to save Duncan from his misery. Owen performs alchemy on Duncan, transforming him from mini-Lurch into golden boy. But the magic is too strong; the transformation feels like a sleight of hand. It's like Pinocchio in reverse: a real boy, after a few lessons from his father figure, learns to be a simulacrum of one.
Nat Faxon, Jim Rash Steve Carell, AnnaSophia Robb, Sam Rockwell, Amanda Peet, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Maya Rudolph, Rob Corddry, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash Nat Faxon, Jim Rash Fox Searchlight

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