The Way, Way Back is a crowd-pleasing summer treat, predictable in its sweetness but satisfying all the same. It's like the multinationally branded ice cream sandwich you get on any pier in the Western Hemisphere--market-tested to appeal to as many people as possible (but you don't mind gobbling up). Though the script includes bits and pieces of writer-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash's real childhoods, it's a slick debut that feels like a recycling of familiar coming-of-age materials. The film's sympathetic but indistinct center is 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James), a hunched, shambling, inarticulate boy whose loneliness weighs him down as much as his slightly out-of-date Bieber bangs. He's an everyteen we're supposed to feel sorry for—his parents are divorced, his mom (Toni Collette) has found herself a dick boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell), he doesn't have the sense not to wear long pants to the beach-- but he's so devoid of personality that we wish happiness for him only in the reflexive way we want to pet a sorry-looking puppy. Duncan is driven into further solitude on one of those summer trips that's really a test of emotional fortitude: an extended stay at Trent's beach house. Like an angel in gas-station aviators, in swoops Owen (Sam Rockwell), the slacker manager of the dated-as-disco Water Wizz water park, to save Duncan from his misery. Owen performs alchemy on Duncan, transforming him from mini-Lurch into golden boy. But the magic is too strong; the transformation feels like a sleight of hand. It's like Pinocchio in reverse: a real boy, after a few lessons from his father figure, learns to be a simulacrum of one.
Director: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
Writer: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
Cast: Steve Carell, Toni Collete, Allison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph, Liam James, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet and River Alexander