Review: 'Way Back' is charming if predictable
This film publicity image released by Fox Searchlight shows, from left, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet, Liam James, Toni Collette and Steve Carell in a scene from "The Way Way Back." (AP Photo/Fox Searchlight, Claire Folger)
There's something inherently formulaic about summer coming-of-age movies. A quirky, awkward and misunderstood kid takes a summer off from regular life and finds a way — at the beach or by the pool — to, well, come of age, often with the help of an equally quirky adult. Summer ends. Life is changed.
And that's precisely what happens in "The Way, Way Back," featuring an expert cast led by Steve Carell, Toni Collette and the terrific Sam Rockwell as that quirky adult.
Luckily, though, the film, written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, is done with enough skill and delicacy that its adherence to formula doesn't matter quite so much. Yes, it could have been a better movie had it taken bolder plot turns. But that likely won't diminish the smile on your face — and very possibly the tear on your cheek — as you exit this charmer of a film.
This film publicity image released by Fox Searchlight shows Liam James, left, and Nat Faxon in a scene from "The Way Way Back." (AP Photo/Fox Searchlight, Claire Folger)
About that title: "The Way, Way Back" refers to the back seat in a station wagon that faces out to the road — the way, WAY back seat.
Which is where 14-year-old Duncan, played by sensitive newcomer Liam James, sits as he reluctantly heads for a beach vacation with his divorced mom Pam (Collette) and her boyfriend, Trent.
The first scene tells you all you need to know about Trent, a very unlikable character played by the very likable Carell. At the wheel next to Duncan's sleeping mom, he barks a question to the teenager: How would you rate yourself, on a scale of 10? When Duncan hazards a weak "six," Trent replies that in his view, the boy's a mere three. How's that for an aspiring step-dad?
It takes a while for Pam to notice her beau's shortcomings. Meantime, Duncan is trying to find a way to pass the time. He grabs a pink girl's bike from the yard and heads to the Water Wizz water park.