“Oh great, another summer vacation coming-of-age film.”
That’s what many are likely to say when they catch their first glimpse of either the trailer or the poster for Fox Searchlight’s latest comedy “The Way, Way Back.”
Thankfully, “The Way, Way Back” is anything but boring, sterile or overly familiar. In fact, the film has a freshness similar to the air of the film’s location Cape Cod, Mass.
That’s not to say “The Way, Way Back” doesn’t have some familiar elements. The basic story of a young, angry and miserable teenage boy named Duncan (Liam James) being forced to go on vacation with his divorced mother Pam’s (Toni Collette) new boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) is nothing particularly new. What helps writers and directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash’s film stand out is that the film focuses most of its attention not on the family drama but rather on Duncan and his quest to grow up over the summer.
It’s in this quest where the film’s truest star shines in Owen (Sam Rockwell), a water park owner who eventually becomes Duncan’s boss for the summer. Rockwell plays the quirky, obnoxious but lovable Owen with such conviction it’s hard not to feel like Owen has been your best friend for your whole life even if he’s only been on screen for a few minutes.
Owen becomes Duncan’s literal savior for the summer, treating him like a son at the water park while Trent continuously treats Duncan like a second class citizen at Trent’s summer beach house. However, as Owen continues to treat Duncan well, things begin to fall apart with Owen’s girlfriend Caitlin (Maya Rudolph) which causes Owen to have to step back and grow up alongside his younger employee.
At the aforementioned beach house, Duncan befriends the next door neighbor’s daughter Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb) who along with Duncan wants to escape from the tortures set upon her by her family. In Susanna’s case, it’s her over-the-top mother Betty (Allison Janney) she seeks to escape from and confide in Duncan about.
Susanna and Duncan’s friendship together and with lazy eyed Peter (River Alexander) helps to break up the constant laughs provided by Owen and his crew and allow the water park segments to remain fresh as the film moves steadily along.
It should come as no surprise to know that writer-directors Faxon and Rash are Academy Award winners for their work on “The Descendants” screenplay when you witness how clever, free and tight the script for “The Way, Way Back” is. The integration of the multitude of characters and endless laughs is nothing short of excellent.
With superb writing and brilliant performances especially by Rockwell and James, “The Way, Way Back” feels as refreshing as a dip into the Water Wizz Water Park lazy river.
“The Way, Way Back” opens in select cities today and across the Austin metro area on July 12. More information and showtimes can be found here.