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Food stars in summer coming-of-age movies: The Way Way Back

Around the table. Robb Corddry, Amanda Peet, Liam James, Toni Collette, and Steve Carell.
Around the table. Robb Corddry, Amanda Peet, Liam James, Toni Collette, and Steve Carell.
Photo by Claire Folger on the set of The Way Way Back

Mixed in with the parade of big-budget super hero movies drawing large audiences are two less-heralded coming-of-age movies, The Way Way Back from Fox Searchlight Pictures and The Kings of Summer from CBS Films. Both star talented young actors supported by an ensemble cast of experienced but not necessarily well-known actors. Food plays an important role in both movies.

Poster for The Way Way Back
© Fox Searchlight Pictures

The Way Way Back is a comedy written and directed by Oscar-winning comedians Nat Faxon and James Rash. In their script, the adults always seem to be preoccupied with adult relationships and trying to blend families. They party, eat, and – perhaps for some – drink too much. Meanwhile, their teenage offspring are ignored. The teens struggle get beyond the adults’ relationships (or lack thereof) and build relationships of their own.

Trent (Steve Carell) plays a horribly stereotyped bully who goes out of his way to demean Duncan (Canadian actor Liam James), the son of Trent’s girlfriend Pam (Toni Collette). The two writer/co-directors save some of the funniest scenes for their own small parts at the Water Wizz, a water park in Massachusetts where Duncan takes a summer job without Trent and Pam’s knowledge.

Faxon plays Roddy, a sexist at the top of the water slide. Rash plays Lewis, the manager of Davy Jones Lockers & Rentals, who claims not to like anyone and threatens to leave every year.

Food at the summer vacation houses creates unhappy family settings for adults seeking new relationships that are doomed to failure. In one scene, the adults sit around a table consuming green salad and shish kabobs with a miserable Duncan.

Food also is set out at patio and boat parties for all present to consume. At one such party, neighbor and recently divorced Betty (Allison Janney) drinks too much and behaves tipsilly.

At the water park, a going-away party for Lewis is boisterous and fun for everyone, including Lewis despite himself.

More overbearing parents

In The Kings of Summer, the parents don’t ignore their teenagers. Instead, they micromanage their offspring and offer them food – especially soup.

Three boys run away from home. Joe (Nick Robinson) is tired of his bossy father, Frank (Nick Offerman), who constantly pesters his son to pick up tools and play Monopoly. Patrick (Gabriel Basso) has overly protective parents (Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson) who constantly insist that he eat and show respect.

The third boy, Biaggio (Moises Arias), follows the other two in search of friendship and adventure. At one point he is caught with clothing with stickers on, and is asked, “Did you go shopping for new clothes?”

Joe steals money and construction tools from his father and manages to get them into the forest near his town. The tools include a wheel barrel and other heavy materials lifted from construction sites. Joe seems to have most of the answers. He takes books on construction from a library. Together the three build a ramshackle house.

Food is a serious issue. Joe finds a Boston Market restaurant near their deep-woods location and purchases provisions. He also buys and brings back groceries, including chicken and watermelon. At one point he kills and skins a wild rabbit, which he cooks over a fire. No rabbits died to film this scene, but it looks and sounds real thanks to deft camera work and editing. It may offput some viewers.

For underage teenagers, the boys seem to have an ample supply of bottled beverages, probably cold beer.

The film was shot at several locations in and near Cleveland, Ohio. The boys’ hideaway and the surrounding terrain, in the rolling hills and wooded ravines of the Appalachian edge, look far more remote than they actually are.

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