The Way Way Back, dir/wr. Nat Faxon, Jim Rash, st. Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph, Liam James, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet
On the subject of projecting an outward air of confidence and charisma, and with leading provocation, Trent (Carell) asks 14-year-old Duncan (James) "On a scale of 1 to 10, what do you think you are?" "A 6?" Duncan replies. "I think you're a 3." Yes, one of the most striking things about Faxon and Rash's unapologetically sweet-natured coming-of-age tale, is witnessing Steve Carrell about-turn from loveable dick to (truly) loathable dick. It's a portrayal the likes of which recalls De Niro's particularly vicious turn as Dwight Hansen in Michael Caton-Jones' 1993 biography of Tobias Wolff This Boy's Life, a film that shares many sensibilities with The Way Way Back. Both feature tremendous cornerstone performances by terrific young actors - in this case Liam James - playing singular kids of single moms hauling ass from home in a bid to make a new start with a new man, too blinded by disillusion from a collapsed marriage to notice their new suitors' suitability or their sons' retreat into themselves. At the seasidey Cape Cod retreat, Duncan and his Mother Pam (Collette) hang out with Trent's dullsville friends and forms a capricious relationship with their neighbour's daughter Susanna (Robb), but it's at the nearby dilapidated, temporally stranded-in-the-80s water park Water Wizz, where Duncan seeks asylum from grown ups' folly. There he meets Owen, a man who's committed - Ron Swanson-like - to irresponsibility and corner cutting management (much to the chagrin of Rudolph's Caitlyn, the assistant manager by turns delighted and dismayed by Owen's infantilism). Duncan becomes the park's newest intern and in return Owen seeks to lift Duncan to the 6 he aspires to. The rub here is Faxon and Rash's unhurried breeziness. The writing is wistful, but never cloying, mellow but never lazy. Owen has no real words of wisdom for the teenager, only much needed and beautifully observed companionship. There isn't even really a big finale, just an understanding between the two, and eventually, satisfyingly, between Mother and Son.