By Christian Cordova-Pedroza
“The Way Way Back,” is a melodramatic comedy directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash that focuses on the issues of youth in dysfunctional families and the inevitable tensions that arise between parents and their adolescent children.
The film centers on 14-year-old introvert Duncan, ably played by Liam James, who is on a beach vacation with his family. That vacation is quickly disrupted when Duncan discovers that his stepfather, played by Steve Carell, is cheating on his mother.
Duncan finds sanctuary in a water park away from his powder keg beach home where he meets Owen, played by the likeable Sam Rockwell, the sarcastic and witty manager of the nearby Water Wizz park. He becomes an important influence, helping Duncan crack his awkward teen shell and emotionally process the discord at home.
The movie’s runtime—just over 100 minutes—prevents anything approaching complex character or plot development. Indeed, many of the characters were little more than stereotypes: the bufoonish, alcoholic neighbor (Allison Janey), the likeable next-door couple (Rob Corddry and Amanda Peet) and Duncan’s prospective love interest (played by an adorable AnnaSophia Robb).
Carell’s performance, in particular, was notable, as he eschewed his usual practice of playing the nice guy for a mean-spirited, sometimes downright cruel—and ill-suited replacement dad for Duncan.
Ultimately, the film’s most redeeming quality was the strong delivery of clever dialogue. The characters’ exchanges—sometimes biting, and frequently uncomfortable to watch—made the characters’ emotions seem real, helping to turn a very simple and well-worn idea into an original chef-d’oeuvre.
In the end, “The Way, Way Back” was much like a fading memory of a teenage summer—fleeting and insubstantial.