The Way, Way Back

 

In modern cinema, most screen teenagers come across like either fumbling nerd caricatures (think Superbad, Scott Pilgrim vs the World or any other Michael Cera movie) or miniature Fonzies; with his pale skin and sloped shoulders, the young hero of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash’s summertime dramedy resembles nothing so much as a mollusc without a shell. Stranded at a lush beach house with his frazzled mom (the always excellent Toni Collette) and prospective stepdad (Steve Carell, who has juggled slapstick comedies and light dramedies), Duncan (Liam James, in one of his first major roles shows an uncanny knack for comic timing) is so uncomfortable in his own skin that it’s often hard to look at him. Even by any adolescence-is-hell standard, this poor, poor sap is the embodiment of how ugly the so-called wonder years can be for some – a painful notion that’s as close as Faxon and Rash’s directorial debut comes to evoking an emotional response that hasn’t been sifted through in dozens and dozens of nigh-identical films.

But don’t worry, like many other films of this type, there’s also a mentor figure – in this case, the local water-park manager (the always hilarious Sam Rockwell, channelling a performance similar to his eccentric showing in The Seven Psychopaths) – whose brazen bravado masks a far deeper disappointment with his life; a cute girl next door (AnnaSophia Robb, who’s set to star as a young Carrie Bradshaw in the Sex and the City prequel) who inexplicably takes a shine to our gawky hero; and a gaggle of grown-ups who make adulthood seem like something to be avoided at all costs. The film at least avoids a tidy ‘…and that was the summer that changed my life’ wrap-up, but when what comes before the end credits feels so prefab, you might as well throw in a cribbed happy ending. Sam Adams

Dir Nat Faxon, Jim Rash Category IIA, 103 mins, opens on Thu Oct 31

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