MOVIE REVIEW: The Way, Way Back

The Daughter is visiting the grandparents for the week, so it’s almost mandatory that The Wife and I go to the movies. But what to see? When one’s seen only a handful of films this year, so there were a half dozen contenders. The Wife chose The Way, Way Back, which we saw Wednesday at the Spectrum in Albany.

I was surprised. I expected, based on the trailer, to be some summer coming-of-age flick that I’ve seen once too often. And while there are elements of the formula, I found the movie surprising affecting.

The premise is that a divorced mom, Pam (Toni Collette) has a new beau, Trent (Steve Carell), who’s taking them, his teenage daughter Steph (Zoe Levin), and her 14-year-old son Duncan (Liam James) from their home in Albany, NY [;-)] to Trent’s summer New England seaside getaway.

The neighbor is Betty (Allison Janney, who drives the bulk of the early humor), and her two kids, bored Susanna (Annasophia Robb) and “different” Peter (River Alexander). Trent’s friends Joan and Kip (Amanda Peet, Rod Corddry) have a boat they all can ride on.

Ever been to a party, or another event, where everyone seems to be having a good time except you? I know I have, and that epitomizes Duncan in the early part of this movie.

Fortunately, Duncan has a chance encounter with Owen (Sam Rockwell), who is manager, pretty much in name only, of an amusement park; Caitlyn (Maya Rudolph) really runs the show, while Owen does … whatever Owen does, in a way that nearly steals the film.

The movie is written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who also have small parts in the film itself. This could have been a by-the-numbers pic, but Faxon and Rash managed to have believable characters; I spent the ride home with The Wife comparing several of them to people I have known. Throw in some clever 1980s pop references, and I understand why it reviewed so well.

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