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DVD review: 'The Way Way Back'

'The Way Way Back'


As far as seasons for adolescent coming of age tales, summertime takes the cake. Free of the constraints of a school schedule, the opportunities are endless for a teen.

'The Way Way Back'
'The Way Way Back'

The most recent look at growing up over a summer is 'The Way Way Back.'

Duncan (Liam James) is forced to go on vacation in Cape Cod with his mom, Pam (Toni Collette), her condescending boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) and his daughter Steph (Zoe Levin). He does not want to be there and is soon overwhelmed by the neighbor, Betty (Allison Janney) and Trent's friends Kip (Rob Corddry) and Joan (Amanda Peet). One bright spot is Betty's daughter Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb).

With all of the planned activities and alienating adults, Duncan retreats from his family and escapes to the local waterpark Water Wizz. There, he meets the manager, a man-child of sorts, Owen (Sam Rockwell). Owen takes a shine to Duncan, shows him around and offers him a job. This is a revelation to the young teen and he gradually comes out of his awkward, anti-social shell.

Will Duncan's family situation continue to be an unpleasant minefield for him to navigate? Will his mom figure out that she can do better? Will Duncan get the girl?

Since Duncan is only 14, most of his adventures and acting out are simply a matter of him being at the water park instead of spending time with his family and being generally anti-social. The story is mainly about a boy dealing with his family's dysfunction and trying to escape it, even temporarily. The humor is gentler and less young adult-oriented. Those are the big differences between it and the somewhat similarly set 'Adventureland' (a real favorite of this examiner). Well, and this doesn't attempt to take on a different time period.

There is some broad humor here and chuckles, but a lot of the humor is understated. It's also not overly crude (except maybe for a little frank sexual dialog among the adults) which would have an easy route to take.

How could a family lose track of their only son for days at a time? Why aren't there ever any consequences for Duncan's absence and insolence? At no point is he even grounded. The conflicts throughout the story are also vaguely defined, aside from the obvious mismatch of Pam and Trent and the usual teen angst. Very little focus is given on the tepid pseudo romance between Duncan and Susanna.

Rash and Faxon do a nice job in their directorial debuts and the script is solid, as well. Their involvement in the cast is just the right amount. They are peripheral characters and have smaller parts, but their contributions are memorable.

Carell really plays against type here as he is usually the likeable everyman. Here, he is the antagonist. Rockwell is his usual smart-aleck self here and really adds a shot of humor to the film. This role is also the most consistently warm and likeable Rockwell has maybe ever played.

Special features include: deleted scenes and behind the scenes along with a trailer.

'The Way Way Back' is a modest success that get so many parts right without taking a whole lot of chances. This was a very good, if slightly tentative first attempt in the world of features and could be a good sign for the future.

Rated PG-13 103 minutes 2014