There's a current wave of charming teen movies. Leaving aside the likes of Project X and What Richard Did, there's a quieter teen movie in vogue right now with The Perks of Being A Wallflower, The Kings Of Summer, Norway's Turn Me On, Goddammit and Belgium's The Giants all retreating from the gross-out humour typical of the genre. When the new wave offers up movies like The Way Way Back, we say 'long may it continue'.
Duncan (James) is a fourteen-year-old forced to spend a boring summer with mum (Collette), her new boyfriend (Carell) and his bitchy daughter (Zoe Levin) at their summer house. Too shy to function and chronically uncool (he listens to REO Speedwagon), Duncan can't bring himself to chat up AnnaSophia Robb, the cutie next door, and wiles away his days feeling bad about himself. However, things look a little sunnier at the local waterpark where owner Sam Rockwell sees something special in the kid...
While the ever-dependable Collette delivers again, and it's fun to see Carell playing against type as the passive-aggressive stepdad, it's Sam Rockwell, Alison Janney and Liam James that provide the spark that elevates this drama. Rockwell just needs to be on camera to be likeable but his man-child here is someone you'd just want to hang out with. He and his bubbly motormouth co-star Janney, parachuted in from the planet Bizarre, are given all the best lines and they don't waste them.
James couldn't be better. Awkward and pale, eyes down and shoulders hunched, he walks like a boy that's all too aware of every movement, and who suspects every movement is incorrect. Directors Foxen and Rash, who also wrote the script and appear in small roles as park employees, might be writing to a formula (the poster promises a Risky Business blossoming of sorts for Duncan) but they deny James the big movie moments you'd expect in a coming of age drama. They want Duncan to ring true and James is on the same page.
On occassion, the chopping and changing from the fun stuff (the waterpark) to the not-so-fun stuff (the tension at home) doesn't gel like it should - it can feel like two movies pushed together - but The Way Way Back shouldn't be missed.