‘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

Florida man charged with murdering son to play…

A Florida man annoyed that his 16-month-old crying son was preventing him from playing video games suffocated the toddler, police said on Friday.

International

Powerful 7.2 magnitude earthquake rattles Mexico

A powerful earthquake struck Mexico Friday, shaking buildings and sending people running into the street, although there were no reports of major damage.

News

OMG! Exercise can make skin (and butt) look…

A moderate exercise regime can turn back time and actually reverse the skin's aging process, according to new research. The study showed that a minimum…

Local

Oval oasis: Summer of fun kicks off this…

A bold partnership between the Fairmount Park Conservancy and the city's Parks and Recreation Department is kicking off this weekend with family activities re-activating this unused public space.

Entertainment

Whoopi Goldberg makes her debut as marijuana columnist

"It helps my head stop hurting, and with glaucoma your eyes ache, and she takes the ache out. It's wonderful," she said.

The Word

Kate Middleton made fun of Prince William's bald…

Kate Middleton and Prince William are in Sydney, Australia, right now, and it sounds like that brash Aussie sense of humor might be rubbing off.

The Word

Is Tom Cruise dating Laura Prepon?

"Mission: Impossible" star Cruise is said to be dating Laura Prepon, star of "Orange is the New Black."

Television

'Scandal' recap: Season 3, Episode 18, 'The Price…

Sally is Jesus, Olivia caused global warming, and Mellie's still drunk. Let's recap the Scandal finale. A church full of Washington insiders is about to…

MLB

Jimmy Rollins is key to Phillies success

When John Kruk was asked about what the Phillies need to contend for a playoff berth, the ESPN analyst said Jimmy Rollins needs to play like a MVP again.

MLB

Ben Revere lifts Phillies to avoid sweep

Ben Revere came through with a two-out RBI single against Atlanta’s tough lefthander Alex Wood.

NBA

Season wrap: 76ers make the grade

The 76ers opened the 2013-14 season with a victory over the Miami Heat. The Sixers closed the season with a win at Miami.

NBA

Fantasy basketball: Finding next year's NBA studs

Before we put the 2013-14 fantasy basketball season to bed, it’s worth thinking about next year’s breakouts while they’re fresh in our mind.

Tech

VIDEO: 'Vein-scanning' may become the future of paying

Designed to make transactions quicker and easier, the technology works by scanning the unique vein patterns in each person's palm.

Tech

#FollowFriday: 10 of the smartest Twitter accounts

Spending lots of time on Twitter? You might as well learn something. Here are some of the smartest accounts to follow.

Style

Light-up nail art syncs with phone

This Japanese technology syncs light-up nail art with your phone.

Wellbeing

Why is dance cardio taking off in NYC?

Instructors at some of the city's hottest classes explain why.