The 1980s coming-of-age film "The Way, Way Back" is the refreshing, feel-good flick of the summer. In a climate of disappointing mega disasters, this indie charmer goes down like an icy cold Bud on a sweltering day.
Liam James stars as Duncan, an awkward, slumped-shouldered 14-year-old who's forced to go on a summer vacation with his mother's obnoxious boyfriend, Trent, and his daughter. In the opening sequence, Duncan, riding in the rear-facing back seat (hence, the title) of a vintage Buick station wagon, is asked a question by Trent (Steve Carell). "How would you rate yourself on a scale of one to 10?" Duncan's hesitant reply is "Six." Trent immediately counters with a crushing three. The stage is set.
Duncan's mother, Pam (the subtly smashing Toni Collette), loves her son but doesn't stand up for him due to her overly zealous efforts to please Trent. There are rules to be abided by in Trent's beach house, and Duncan is in the habit of breaking them. But, soon, he discovers a nearby waterpark run by a loveable kook named Owen (Sam Rockwell). The two begin to develop a relationship when Owen hires Duncan and, in doing so, changes Duncan's outlook on life.
"The Way, Way Back" is chock-full of fabulous characters and actors who portray them. Allison Janney is hilarious as the booze-swilling next-door neighbor with the best lines. A great many of them include telling people how to talk to her son who has a lazy eye (trust me, they're funny). In a surprising turn, Carell delivers an astounding performance as the hypocritical, condescending creep, Trent. But it's Rockwell who runs the show. His portrayal of Owen, the goofball with a heart of gold is the best performance of his career.
The Oscar-winning writing team of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash ("The Descendants") make their directorial debut in "The Way, Way Back." They deserve a perfect score for this profound and comedic look at human nature. Rash was actually the 14-year-old kid asked the "one to 10" by his stepfather nearly three decades ago. Proof that pain can become gain.
"The Way, Way Back" is a poignant film about love, self respect and the people who can make a difference in one's life. It points out that within all of us there's a 10 lurking just beneath the surface, longing to be released.
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