Craig's First Take: "The Way, Way Back"

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14-year-old Duncan's summer vacation with his mother, her overbearing boyfriend, and his daughter. Having a rough time fitting in, Duncan finds an unexpected friend in Owen, manager of the Water Wizz water park.
2.5

It still makes me laugh that the goofy, bald-headed dean from the TV show “Community” and one of the broadly-drawn Swedish beer pong players from the movie “Beerfest” are Oscar winners. Writers of the overrated George Clooney comedy-drama “The Descendants”, one would assume that’s how they got to direct this first feature, which they also wrote, but as far as I’m concerned it’s the second movie in a row for these guys to inspire nothing but indifference.

“The Way Way Back” tries to be that summer classic, the one about the alienated kid who finds a family within a bunch of eccentrics at the water park who teach him to be his own unique self, which he does in the end by pulling off something exceptional. Oh, and there is also a hot blonde (AnnaSophia Robb) who sorta likes him but he just has to realize it and stop being such a mope all the time. Duncan (Liam James) is the kid, dragged along by his mom (Toni Collette) to the beach house of her new jerk of a boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell, not called upon to be funny for a moment here). He hates it, up until the point where he meets Owen (a scene-stealing Sam Rockwell), the laid back and sarcastic manager of a water park who hires him for the summer. There he meets quirky characters like the guy who says every summer that he’s leaving and going on to better things but always comes back anyway (played by Rash) and the guy who’s just intent on soaking up the sun and ogling the girls (played by Faxon).

The whole thing feels as if you’ve seen it before you’ve even sat down in your seat and presenting the water park as this magical place where all cares drift away makes it feel like the movie is just brushing any emotional and or questionable aspects of this story under the rug. What’s Trent’s problem? Why is mom so oblivious? Who is Duncan other than a mopey kid? What is he getting out of this summer other than a chance to ogle girls and shoot people with water guns? And considering the big payoff is a water-slide trick, arbitrary might as well be this movie’s middle name. It would work better if it were funny, but laughs are few and far between. Rash and Faxon rely more on character quirks, like Allison Janney playing a motor-mouth mom who constantly complains about her son’s lazy eye.“Back” tries hard to be likable and in a way it is, it’s also well acted, but it’s too formulaic and too lite, never really giving us reason to care.