The Way Way Back

Year: 2013
Production Co: Sierra/Affinity
Studio: Fox Searchlight
Director: Nat Faxon/Jim Rash
Writer: Nat Faxon/Jim Rash
Cast: Liam James, Annasophia Robb, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Amanda Peet, Rob Corddry

Here's what happens when you take a Sundance dramedy and add a little too much slapstick. It's more than the casting of Steve Carell and Toni Collette (who last starred together in the quirky family hit Little Miss Sunshine, a close tonal cousin to this film). And it's more than names like Allison Janney and Rob Corddry who usually show up in this kind of thing.

This kind of sly, trying-to-be-smart movie a little bit like porn –hard to describe, but you know it when you see it.

When he arrives at a lakeside beach community for the summer holidays with his loving mother Pam (Collette), her passive-aggressive alpha male boyfriend Trent (Carell, who makes it interesting by playing against type) and Trent's OMG teen daughter Steph, Duncan (James) has as hard a time fitting in as he does anywhere.

Only Owen (Rockwell), the eternal partyboy manager at the local water park, and Susanna (Robb), the pretty girl next door, promise to drag Duncan out of the doldrums he's in, and when Owen gives him a job at the lackadasically-run fun park, Duncan starts to find the family he really wants.

The structure and the heart are there, but there are just too many cliches. Rockwell's motormouth is certainly funny, but we've seen this eternal man-boy so many times it's very long in the tooth.

As his supposedly loving mother Pam, Collette also takes way too long to see (or act on) how unhappy Duncan is, torpedoing all sympathy for her character and the troubles she starts having with Trent when it becomes more apparent what an arsehole he is.

Lastly is the completely hatstand James as loner Duncan. It's never a good idea to make an actor this devoid of expression your lead, and any time he's not supported by the more assured older actors, he fades into the background.

It's film festival awards bait, the kind of thing actors love when they get sick of cashing giant cheques for voicing animated family movies, and ever since the rise of the festival style in film, it's as old and tired as the heroine who used to trip over running away from the monster in the 50s and lie there screaming until the hero came back to pick her up.

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