Movie review: “Way, Way Back” a winning coming-of-age comedy

By
From the July 18, 2013 edition

It’s been a fine summer for coming-of-age indie comedies. On the heels of “The Kings of Summer” (think “Stand By Me” as directed by Wes Anderson) comes “The Way, Way Back” (think John Hughes lite).

It’s a nostalgic film almost to a fault, but I’m a sucker for teenage angst and sentimentality, so I am more than willing to overlook some shortcomings. Maybe it was all that time I spent as a kid riding in the back of the station wagon on trips with my grandparents.

Our protaganist is 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James). He’s a typical 14-year-old kid, a little sullen, a little quiet, a little misunderstood.

Duncan is spending his summer on a beach house vacation with his mom Pam (Toni Collette), her boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell in a douche-tastic turn against type) and his daughter.

Duncan isn’t a fan of Trent, and being dragged on this vacation is cause for a good old-fashioned teenage sulkfest. But things start to brighten for Duncan, first in the form of beautiful neighbor (AnnaSophia Robb) and an encounter with the eccentric and immature owner of local water park (Sam Rockwell).

“The Way, Way Back” was co-written and co-directed by two comedic character actors, Nat Faxon (“Walk Hard”) and Jim Rash (TV’s “Community”). They also appear in supporting roles in the film.

Actor-directors have a tendency to put fellow actors at ease, and Faxon and Rash get solid, funny and heartfelt performance from their whole cast — including Allison Janney as a booze-soaked neighbor.

The standout is the always-charming Rockwell. He evokes Bill Murray in mentor mode (see: “Rushmore,” “Meatballs,” etc.). Yes, that’s high praise.

There are quibbles with various plot and character points, but don’t be a grouch. Ride in “The Way, Way Back.”