For the 14-year Duncan (Liam James), this is shaping up to be the worst Summer ever: stuck in an Eastern Seaboard beach town where he knows no one and no one much cares about wanting to know him, with his divorced mother (Toni Collette) and her new boyfriend, a clueless but self-important car salesman (Steve Carell). No wonder he's despondent, and in looking for a lifesaver Duncan stumbles on a old-fashioned, past-its-prime water park; by befriending its infuriatingly irresponsible and free-spirited manager (Sam Rockwell), Duncan will gain a measure of self-worth that will put him on the road to growing up and leaving his despondency behind. In short, The Way, Way Back is another faux-independent coming-of-age tale lent credence by its star cast, but one with enough stand-out features to be worth the look.

     The best thing about this directorial debut from the screenwriting duo of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, co-writers of Alexander Payne's The Descendants and television sitcom actors, is its messiness, awkwardness and loping rhythm; Messrs. Faxon and Rash make a point of underlining - as in a particularly strong sequence around a board game - the quietly desperate moodiness of folks who will do anything to fit in and belong somewhere, to the point of becoming miserable. Their attention to the actors, adults and teenagers, and to how they inhabit these sad-sack characters (all, in their way, teenagers looking to grow up) is what redeems The Way, Way Back from its surfeit of subplots, seen-this-all-before plotting and bland filming style. They're all fragile, frail, real people, never just mere screenwriter conceits, and the writers-directors manage to coax lovely performances from the ensemble cast (though we would always welcome more of Allison Janney) and especially from Mr. James and Annasophia Robb (as Ms. Janney's daughter).

Cast: Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Annasophia Robb, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph, Liam James, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet
Directors and screenwriters: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Cinematography: John Bailey  (colour)
Music: Rob Simonsen
Designer: Mark Ricker
Costumes: Ann Roth, Michelle Matland
Editor: Tatiana S. Riegel
Producers: Kevin J. Walsh, Tom Rice  (Fox Searchlight Pictures, Sycamore Pictures, Doubleyou, Oddlot Entertainment and The Walsh Company in association with What Just Happened Productions and TSG Entertainment Finance)
USA, 2013, 104 minutes

Screened: DVD, Lisbon, November 9th 2013


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