‘The Way, Way Back’ is the summer movie you may forget

Liam James plays a depressed teenager in "The Way Way Back." Credit: Claire Folger
Liam James plays a depressed teenager in “The Way Way Back.”
Credit: Claire Folger

‘The Way, Way Back’
Directors: Jim Rash and Nat Faxon
Stars: Liam James, Sam Rockwell
Rating: PG-13
2 (out of 5) Globes

Jim Rash, who plays semi-ambiguously gay, cross-dressing Dean Pelton on “Community,” and Nat Faxon, who appears in the comedies of Broken Lizard, are both Oscar winners. That’s because they wrote the somber, thoughtful script for “The Descendants.” Neither fact is what you might expect. That they wrote and made their joint directorial debut with “The Way, Way Back” makes more sense. The film’s description reads like a parody: It’s a “summer I’ll never forget” indie with an overqualified cast that was picked up for gobs of money at Sundance. (It also features Toni Colette and Steve Carell, alumni of the ultimate Sundance crossover “Little Miss Sunshine.”)

The kid who’ll never forget this summer is Duncan (Liam James), an awkward, permanently sullen 14-year-old stuck on a beach house trip with his divorcee mom (Colette) and her cruel boyfriend (Carell), who kicks off the movie telling him he’d rate him a 3 on the 10-point scale. Such casual abuse is, thankfully, thin on the ground in the film’s remainder, which finds Duncan inevitably gaining confidence. While the grown-ups day drink like teenagers, he finds himself frequenting then suddenly working at the local rickety, retro ‘80s water park. It’s here that a boy so socially awkward it doesn’t appear he’s ever spoken to someone who’s not his mom can find questionable friends, chief among them an aging, too-cool-for-school water park employee (Sam Rockwell). The film also gives him a love interest in the girl literally next door (AnnaSophia Robb).

These are all cliches, right down to the killjoy third act tonal shift, when the hazy, lazy, good times vibe turns serious and emo. But this isn’t just a high-toned, high-buzzed twist on the ‘80s vacation likes of “Summer Rental.” There’s a few twists that make it tough to shrug off. Duncan may not speak or have any apparent personality, but he’s not a secret sensitive type. He really doesn’t appear to have any talents nor inner life. It’s suggested that, in all likelihood, he’ll just wind up like the rest of the water park staff: people, like Rockwell’s furtively remorseful antihero, who’ve stayed at this dumb job too long, let even modest ambitions go unrealized and only periodically pine for something more. There’s a very real, only somewhat delved into melancholy to the film, an air of disappointment and self-hatred that’s more serious than the “serious” developments in its final stretch.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

California passes 'yes-means-yes' campus sexual assault bill

Californian lawmakers passed a law on Thursday requiring universities to adopt "affirmative consent" language in their definitions of consensual sex, part of a nationwide drive to curb sexual assault on…

National

Syrian refugees top 3 million, half of all…

By Stephanie NebehayGENEVA (Reuters) - Three million Syrian refugees will have registered in neighboring countries as of Friday, but many remain trapped by the advance…

International

North Korean leader's money manager defects in Russia:…

A senior North Korean banking official who managed money for leader Kim Jong Un has defected in Russia and was seeking asylum in a third country, a South Korean newspaper…

Local

MAP: New York City Street Closures August 29,…

The Department of Transportation and NYPD said there may be residual delays near all of the street closures on August 29, 31 and 31. Several streets and avenues will be…

Going Out

'Friends' coffeehouse Central Perk coming to NYC —…

"Friends" is coming back for a one-off special: "The One with the Free Coffee." Warner Bros. is bringing a pop-up replica of Central Perk, the…

Movies

Interview: 'As Above, So Below' directors: 5 ways…

The fraternal directors of the found footage horror "As Above, So Below" dish on the best ways to frighten the bejesus out of audiences.

Movies

Criterion's new Jacques Demy box mixes the light…

Jacques Demy, the most effervescent of French New Wave filmmakers, gets a Criterion box all to himself, with classics like "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg."

Entertainment

Comedian Joan Rivers, 81, rushed to New York…

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Acerbic comedian and fashion critic Joan Rivers was rushed to Mount Sinai Hospital in New York on Thursday after she reportedly…

NFL

3 things we learned in the Giants preseason…

The final score didn’t matter — a 16-13 win by the Giants — but it would’ve been nice to finally see Big Blue’s new-look offense get on track.

NFL

NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots, 49ers start…

NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots start at top

U.S. Soccer

5 facts about new England captain Wayne Rooney

Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney was named as the new England captain by coach Roy Hodgson on Thursday.

NFL

Jets vs. Eagles: 3 things to watch

A win on Thursday night at the Eagles would give the Jets a 3-1 record and just their second winning preseason under head coach Rex Ryan.

Style

Trend: White hot on the 2014 Emmy's red…

White was one of the big trends on the Emmy's red carpet.

Food

Recipe: Samuel Adams beer-marinated grilled shrimp

Summer calls for two things: a cold beer and light food. Sam Adams' Latitude 48 IPA fairly bursts with citrus notes, making it an ideal marinade…

Wellbeing

4 healthy ingredient swaps to make your meals…

When it comes to eating well, everyone knows they could be doing better. But cooking in an apartment on a busy schedule is a recipe…

Wellbeing

Heart trumps brain when it comes to movies…

When you need a good cry, do you reach for the movie that’s “based on a true story”? Science says you’re giving your brain far…