MRR Review: "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.
3.5

MRR Review: "The Way, Way Back"

-- Rating: PG-13 (thematic elements, language, some sexual content, brief drug material)
Length: 103 minutes
Release Date: July 5, 2013
Directed by: Jim Rash, Nat Faxon
Genre: Comedy/Drama

In the delightful film "The Way, Way Back," Duncan (Liam James) is a teenager at odds with the world and himself. He is a bit of an oddball whose mother Pam (Toni Collette) has separated from his father. Newly single, she decides to date a complete jerk named Trent (Steve Carell), who happens to own a summer vacation near the beach. He invites Pam and Duncan to spend time there, which takes Duncan out of his comfort zone and forces him to deal with the outside world much more than he usually does.

Duncan, not wanting to spend his vacation trapped indoors or on the beach with the insufferable Trent, decides to take a bike ride around town to explore. He finds ends up at the Water Wizz water park, where Owen (Sam Rockwell), a kindred spirit of sorts who has been through what Duncan is experiencing, works. The two immediately strike up a friendship that keeps Duncan busy and starts to bring him out of his shell. Wishing to crack Duncan's shell for good, Owen pulls a few strings and gets the teen a job at the park, teaching him how to flirt with girls and opening up a whole new world for him in the process.

Duncan really seems to be taking in life, but he is still fairly estranged from his mother, and not just because she is dating Trent, who is completely oblivious to the fact that his words cut like a knife. When Pam starts demanding to know what Duncan has been doing when he is gone for hours on end, his two worlds finally collide. Owen and the Water Wizz gang meet the family, which could either be a disaster or successfully bring the two lives he has been living together.

Carell is widely thought to be one of the nicest people in Hollywood. Some coworkers have gone so far as to say that he is probably one of the nicest guys on the entire planet. For years, it seems like he has been typecast in nice-guy roles that sometimes mirrored his public persona. Even when his characters were bumbling and not too smart, they were always still polite at the very least. One exception to this rule has been "Despicable Me," but he was only a voice in the film and his villain was still loveable despite himself, so it hardly counts against his nice-guy image. In "The Way, Way Back," Carell breaks out of character and plays a real jerk. Not only is Trent a jerk, he seems to almost revel in the fact that he is one. It's a completely unexpected turn from the actor, who does a good job convincing the audience that he can play against type. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him play this kind of character more often, which would surely open up lots of new roles for him that casting directors might not have considered him for before seeing him in this film.

The film was written and directed by Jim Rash and Nat Faxon, who won Oscars for their screenplay for the George Clooney vehicle "The Descendants." "The Way, Way Back" will likely be compared to that film, especially since both movies feature dysfunctional families. These are two very different films, however. "The Descendants" is much more dramatic, while "The Way, Way Back" has a lighter tone and delivers great humor on occasion.

"The Way, Way Back" already comes with high expectations because of the connection it has to Oscar winning films through Rash and Faxon. A lesser film might crumble under these heightened expectations, but "The Way, Way Back" is a good enough film to shoulder them and even exceed them at times. It is lighthearted without being frivolous and has some dramatic oomph that doesn't make it dark or weighty. It is actually a fantastic balance of comedy and drama with likeable actors playing mostly likeable characters. It's a summer confection for those who are suffering from superhero overload or don't require a bunch of special effects or noisy explosions in their films. In a world where timing is everything, the release of "The Way, Way Back" couldn't come at a better time.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5