A hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, The Way Way Back is exactly what you’d expect it to be from reading the credits. Written and directed by Oscar-winning scribes Jim Rash and Nat Faxon (The Descendants), it utilises the bittersweet formula so beloved by Alexander Payne.
Starring Toni Collette and Steve Carell, it recalls that pairing’s previous Sundance smash Little Miss Sunshine with its tale of family dysfunction, rites-of-passage and a bumpy road trip, all bathed in glorious sunlight.
Collette is put-upon single mum Pam, travelling to the beach house of her new dickhead boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell), with a pair of teenage kids: his haughty daughter Steph (Zoe Levin) and her introspective son Duncan (Liam James).
Once there, Duncan escapes the smooching and hectoring by landing a summer job at ’80s-flavoured amusement park Water Wizz, where he quickly gravitates to carefree manager Owen (Sam Rockwell). Life lessons follow.
Like so many US indies, The Way Way Back at times overplays its smart-arse idiosyncrasies and frequently threatens to tip subsidiary characters (Allison Janney’s boozy, vivacious divorcee and her wonky-eyed son) from colourful to cartoonish.
But Carell shines against type, Collette and James locate authentic anguish, and the daisy-chain plotting hops between beach trips, barbecues and moonlit discos – who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?
It’s Rockwell who steals the show, though, his grizzled appearance and deadpan delivery fitting the Bill. Murray with muscles, anyone?
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