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Movie review: The Way Way Back

Updated on August 11, 2013

Summer lovin', had me a blast
Summer lovin', happened so fast
Met a girl crazy for me
Met a boy cute as can be
Summer days drifting away
To, uh oh, those summer nights

Ah those summer nights indeed. Where boys meet girls and, if the stars are aligned correctly, a mutual feeling of giddiness can occur. This scenario is often captured on film within the coming-of-age genre, and in recent years, it has been championed by Michael Cera.

With Cera now well in his forties (well, 25), it's time for someone new to have a stab at playing the awkward teen in love. Step up to the angst-ridden plate Liam James.

Going on holiday with you parents can be a pain in the proverbial at the best of times, imagine how much worse it is then for 14-year-old Duncan (James) when his mum (Toni Collette) drags him along for summer break with her new boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) and his teen daughter Steph (Zoe Levin).

What makes it worse is that Trent is a jerk of the highest order, who feels no shame in undermining Duncan at every opportunity. Duncan is prepared for this to be the worst summer of his life, until he happens upon the veritable oasis that is Water Wizz. It's at this water park that he befriends Owen (Sam Rockwell), the Peter Pan owner of the local attraction, who takes Duncan under his irresponsible wing, which results in a summer that Duncan will never forget.

Although the names of the directors may not ring any bells, their faces may be more familiar; Nat Faxon stars as Ben in the US comedy show Ben and Kate, while Jim Nash stars as Dean Pelton in the US comedy series Community. And although this is their joint directorial debut, they've had some success together before, being Oscar winners no less; the pair wrote the screenplay for the George Clooney film The Descendents, along with the film's director Alexander Payne, picking up a golden statue each for best screenplay for their troubles in 2011.

This film then, which they've written and directed, has a lot to stand up to, and although it doesn't quite match up to their previous gold standards, it certainly has its charms.

One thing they should be commended on is some great casting; not only with the involvement of Carell, Colette and Rockwell, but with secondary roles for the likes of Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet and a fantastically comic turn by Allison Janney as the full-on neighbour Betty. They've also got the wonderful Maya Rudolph involved, but she is woefully under-utilised as a semi love interest for Rockwell.

Carell takes on his darkest role yet in a very straight role as the completely unlikeable Trent; without playing for laughs, Carell does well in portraying an utter heel. Rockwell does well too, despite it taking a while to warm to his quirky character.

Young James gives a decent account of himself as the main teenage protagonist; he may not have the subtle range of someone like Cera, or his comic abilities for that matter, but offers a sweet and sincere depiction of a shy teen on the cusp of manhood.

Although slightly reminiscent of Greg Mottola's superb 2009 Adventureland, The Way Way Back does sag noticeably in places. There are just one too many drawn out scenes that deserved a place on the editing floor that stop it from being a true coming-of-age classic.

Perhaps not made of the stuff of long summer infatuations, it should still prove more than satisfactory for a very brief fling.

3 booms

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