Movie Review - The Way Way Back

It's Little Miss Sunshine meets The Descendants. Oscar-winning screenwriters Nat Faxon and Jim Rash from The Descendants in their directorial debut have Steve Carell and Toni Collette who were the stars of Little Miss Sunshine again go on a road trip. Instead of being brother and sister, they play boyfriend and girlfriend. Instead of a Volkswagen, they start out in a station wagon.

The Way Way Back reminded me of The Inkwell (1994), which was a teenage boy who is shy and awkward who goes with his family to a beach house for a summer vacation. The Way Way Back stars Liam Jones as Duncan, a 14-year-old shy and awkward child who is going with his mom Pam, her boyfriend Trent and his daughter Steph to Trent's summer home along the Massachusetts coast just south of Boston.

Carell and Collette are great as two single parents who come together but whose relationship is potentially on the rocks. Allison Janney is great as Betty, the boozy busybody who has a real motor mouth that says very inappropriate things or low-filter things.

The problem is that the movie centers on Liam Jones and I simply don't think he's that great of a child actor here. He's leagues behind comparable child actors like Tye Sheridan or Jacob Lofland who were featured recently in Jeff Nichols' Mud. Thomas Doret in The Kid With a Bike who's slightly younger, Logan Lerman in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Jared Gilman in Moonrise Kingdom all give better performances.

Granted, Liam Jones' character is meant to be mostly humorless and without irony who takes things literally. His Duncan starts out the movie irritated and perpetuates that for half the film, so for that length of time the audience is equally irritated.

He's counter balanced with Sam Rockwell who plays Owen, the manager of a water park. Owen is always joking, never taking anything seriously. He's always playful. He recognizes that Duncan is like his polar opposite, so he decides to latch onto Duncan and force him to have fun. I get the point, but never, not even when Duncan is crying, does Owen have a serious conversation with the teen.

This film doesn't engender as much laughs. Most of the comedy is supposed to spring from Rockwell but he can't carry it all alone. His shtick gets tired real fast. It's not like Little Miss Sunshine where most of the main actors contributed to the comedy. This feels more like a coming-of-age story, a dime-a-dozen in Hollywood. It's also not like Little Miss Sunshine or The Descendants because there are no bigger themes or issues to extrapolate. As such, this movie is merely a trifle.

The score by Rob Simonsen who helped compose the music for (500) Days of Summer is very good. There are also a few great songs on the soundtrack. The track 'Power Hungry Animals' by Apache Relay is well used. 'Alone' by Trampled By Turtles and 'Go Where the Love Is' by Edie Brickell and the Gaddabouts all warranted immediate downloads.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language, some sexual content and brief drug material.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 43 mins.


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