Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Way, Way Back

The Summer of Our Discontent
"Little Mr. Sunshine"

The summer "coming of age" movie is such a staple that it might be worthy of its own genre label, rather than merely being relegated to a sub-category. It's a natural, really. The timing seems right and appropriate for the subject of change. Summer always seems to be a time of transitions: from one school year to the next; from bring a graduate to a freshman, walking out of one door and into (and hopefully through) another one. And while the rest of the year is taken up by schooling, the ample three months of idle time gives one plenty of opportunity for other extracurricular learning—life-lessons from the school of hard knocks.

Take Duncan (Liam James), for instance (please, someone has to...) in the new film by Jim Rash and Nat Faxon (they won an Oscar for their superb script for The Descendants).  Fourteen, a 'tweener, his parents are divorced and Mom (Toni Collette) has taken up with another man. Trent (Steve Carrell), who has a daughter Steph (Zoe Levin).  It is clear as this pint-sized Brady Bunch goes to an ocean beach house that it is not going to be anything resembling a beach-home.  Duncan doesn't want to be there; he'd rather be with his Dad this Summer.  Whether that preference has driven a previous wedge between Trent and Duncan is not know.  What is known is that Trent is something of a jerk to Duncan.  "One a scale of 1 to 10, what do you think you are?" he asks Duncan sequestered to the back of the station wagon on the ride to.  "Six," says Duncan, noncommittally.

"I think you're a 3," says Trent imperiously.  "I just don't see you putting yourself out there..."

If Trent wanted to see Duncan put out, that remark was a good start.

Duncan (Liam James) has a "thousand mile stare"
Duncan settles into the teen routine of being a hot-house plant in a dark room, grunting monosyllabically at anyone over 30.  He can't relate to Trent's friends and neighbors, like the barely-together Betty (Allison Janney)—she has two kids, Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb) and Peter (River Alexander) and Kip (Rob Cordrry) and Joan (Amanda Peet).  And Mom, trying to heal after a divorce, is there for Trent.  Duncan tries to be invisible and stay out of the way, and is emotionally unavailable.

It isn't until he finds Steph's abandoned pink bike (with tassles on the handlebars) that things begin to pick up speed and he feels like less of a trapped and pacing animal.  The bike gives him some mobility, some freedom, and it only has one seat, which is fine by him.  He starts to explore the beach-town and runs into Owen (Sam Rockwell at his loose best) who runs the local water-slide park, Water Wizz.  Duncan gravitates there and that's when his Summer starts to get fun.  Owen takes him under his crooked wing, adding Duncan as park-help, and introducing him to what will be his new family, including Caitlin (Maya Rudolph), the responsible to Owen's irresponsible, and concessioners Roddy (Faxon) and Lewis (Rash).  Pretty soon he's in a routine, interacting with sort-of adults and fitting in.

But, it causes conflicts within families; his long hours at the park causes concerns at home and puts him in further conflict with Trent, who has his own disappearing act issues.

It is no great shakes as a film, but it is a good movie, a movie you might enjoy.  It is merely competent, well-written, extraordinarily cast and acted (the standouts being Rockwell and Steve Carell who works against type and proves himself capable of playing a deliberate jerk, instead of just a clueless one.  And Rash and Faxon prove themselves as adept at directing as they are at screenwriting.  In a disappointing Summer, this counts for a lot.  And like Duncan's situation at Water Wizz, this little wayward breath of fresh air from the usual carnage perpetrated on screens is a welcome relief.

The Way, Way Back is a Matinee. 

The only explosion in The Way, Way Back

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