The Way Way Back

Low-stakes talkie doesn't come through

The coming-of-age story is one of the best movie genres. The Way Way Back has a terrific cast—Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Steve Carell, Maya Rudolph, Sam Rockwell—and Oscar-winning writer-directors—Nat Faxon and Jim Rash—and a teenaged lead with just the right amount of slouchy, toe-scuff insecurity—Liam James, whatup Jack Linden!—but for whatever reason just never gels. Duncan (James)’s Mom, Collette, is dating Carell (at maximum douche) and they all go to a Martha’s Vineyard-type seaside cottage town for the summer. Loner Duncan gets a secret job at a water park run by Rockwell and Rudolph. The summer ends, they go home. That’s the movie. No one likes a low-stakes talkie more than me, but Duncan’s victories—over Carell, his fear of girls, of people—come easy and hollow, adding up to little. Rockwell is charming, but it’s a stretch to believe he sees himself in this introverted kid, at least enough to take him on as a surrogate son. Janney is a drunken hoot, but Collette is stuck playing it straight and weepy. Disappointing.

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