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The Way, Way Back

Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who shared an Oscar for adapting the screenplay of The Descendants, seems to have had fairly average adolescences, if their directorial debut is any indication. Like Girl Most Likely, theirs is a script that had been kicking around for awhile before they got a chance to film it (reading it was what led Alexander Payne to hire them to work on his film). Reportedly based at least in some degree on their own childhoods, the clunkily titled movie is pleasant but hardly compelling: You wonder what about the story made them feel it so needed to be shared. Liam James has the central role of Duncan, 14-year-old son of whose mother Pam (Toni Collette) is quietly desperate for support a year after her divorce. She’s taken up with Trent (Steve Carrell), who must make a good living because he can afford to take them all for an extended vacation at his summer beach house.

The house is part of a community that another kid describes as “Like spring break for adults.” There’s the neighbor (Allison Janney, acting loudly in every sense of the word) who greets their arrival by calling “Hey, I’m off the wagon again!” and sharing a bottomless pit of gossip about people they don’t know.

Annoyed at the adult shenanigans but unable to connect with anyone his own age, Duncan finds solace at Water Wizz, a nearby amusement park. Here the movie all but turns into a remake of Meatballs with Sam Rockwell in the Bill Murray part of the smartass but supportive older brother surrogate. In a movie that is being sold on the strength of its cast, Rockwell is the best thing onscreen. Carrell gets top billing, but you have to wonder why he bothered with the part of a guy who initially seems like a jerk and remains exactly that way thoughout the film. (He’s the kind who, instead of asking “Can you take the cooler to the car,” says, “The cooler isn’t going to get to the car by itself.”) All you really come away from the movie with is the impression that either Faxon or Rash (who play other Water Wizz employees) was maybe a little too close to his mom as a teen.

Watch the trailer for The Way, Way Back

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