Friday, 19 July 2013

The Way, Way Back - Movie Review

By Leslie C. Halpern

Bullies come in all shapes, sizes, and forms. For 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James), his nemesis appears in the guise of Trent (Steve Carell), the controlling jerk dating Duncan's divorced mother, Pam (Toni Collette). Trent takes them (along with his snobbish daughter [Zoe Levin]) to a beach house for a summer vacation. Once they're away from the routine of daily life, hidden qualities emerge that make for high drama and lots of laughs.

Uncomfortable Family Dynamics

Trent makes it clear during the car ride to the beach house that he considers Duncan a "three out of ten," with the potential to raise his score if he works hard. Meanwhile his mother sleeps peacefully in the front seat as Trent continues to undermine Duncan's emerging self-image. This initial glimpse of Pam carries throughout the film as she either sleeps, ignores, or gets high to escape the realities of her life.

Much of the drama comes from the uncomfortable dynamics between these four characters sharing a summer home. The lack of respect, poor communication, and dysfunctional behavior make an unpleasant environment for all of them. Larger-than-life next-door neighbors give the audience (and Duncan) something lighter to focus on besides the unhappy foursome.

Surrounded by Quirky Misfits

Luckily these strange neighbors add a pleasant diversion. Allison Janney portrays a gossipy mother with a big mouth, but a good heart. Her nerdy son (River Alexander) and beautiful daughter (AnnaSophia Robb) also fit into Duncan's life in strange and unexpected ways.

Even more importantly, however, Duncan breaks free of his unhappy summer home by bicycling each day to Water Wizz, a nearby water park where the smooth-talking manager, Owen (Sam Rockwell), offers the boy a job and a place to fit in. Surrounded by quirky misfits at the park, Duncan discovers his unique strengths through the responsibilities assigned to him.

Excellent acting, an interesting setting, and a likeable story with which most of us can relate, combine to make The Way, Way Back a small - though delightful - splash in the pool of summer movies.

The Way, Way Back

  • In this family film, a 14-year-old boy finds himself during one difficult summer.
  • Starring Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph, Liam James, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet
  • Directors-Writers: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
  • Genre: Comedy Drama
  • Run Time: 103 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, language, some sexual content, and brief drug material)

Leslie C. Halpern wrote the book "Rub, Scrub, Clean the Tub: Funny Children's Poems About Self-Image" (Cricket Cottage Publishing, 2012). Leslie also authored three nonfiction books about the entertainment industry: "Passionate About Their Work: 151 Celebrities, Artists, and Experts on Creativity" (BearManor Media, 2010), "Reel Romance: The Lovers' Guide to the 100 Best Date Movies" (Taylor Trade Publishing, 2004), and "Dreams on Film: The Cinematic Struggle Between Art and Science" (McFarland & Company, Inc., 2003). Visit her website to learn more about these and other titles:

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