Academy Award winning screenwriters Jim Rash and Nat Faxon (The Descendants) decided to not only write the screenplay but also direct and star in this dramedy about a shy kid named Duncan (Liam James) who has to endure a summer at his mother’s douchebag boyfriend Trent’s (Steve Carell) beach house. Duncan finds solace by befriending a manager at a water park (Sam Rockwell) and working there during the day.
I had heard a lot about this film and was drawn to it for a number of reasons:
1) Jim Rash and Nat Faxon are great screenwriters.
2) Sam Rockwell is a brilliant dramatic actor who can do comedy really well.
3) Steve Carell is a brilliant comedic actor who can do drama really well. Also, I was told he’s playing a dick in this movie. There is nothing I love more than seeing a talented and beloved actor playing a dick – I needed to see if Carell could pull this off. Short answer: he did.
But before we get into performances let me just say that the tone of this movie is reminiscent of Adventureland, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, and Little Miss Sunshine. Toni Collette and Steve Carell actually both star in Little Miss Sunshine and The Way Way Back, but are actually a couple in the latter.
The juxtaposition of comedy and drama in this film is apparent immediately when the Water Wizz park and manager Owen (Rockwell) is introduced. When Duncan is around his family, he feels isolated and out of place, leading to tension and drama but when he is at the Water Wizz he has a new found confidence and a new family where he can joke around and let loose.
The bond that forms between Owen and Duncan is the most significant in the entire film as you can see his progression from the shy kid into a much livelier kid who decides to not take life so seriously sometimes and just have fun – at least until he clocks out and has to return to his depressing life at the beach house. Owen is the yin to Duncan’s yang and together they forge a formidable friendship.
Another key relationship is that of Duncan and his mother (Collette) who also feels out of place but allows herself to be convinced that this perfect summer will be just that. She tries to keep her boyfriend and her son happy, which isn’t easy considering how Trent’s overbearing attitude towards Duncan is apparent throughout the film and especially in the film’s opening scene – which, for me, is the most revealing and important scene in the entire film.
This film is solid throughout, with a strong climax that – without giving it away – I think worked really well and gave it a light-hearted but worthy finish. A lot of viewers seemed to think the ending could have been done a little differently but I think the final frames of action has a strong symbolism that I think others would have wanted to be spelled out. I, however, believe that sometimes less is more and gestures beat dialogue every time.
This is a fun but thought-provoking film with quite a few light-hearted shenanigans that will make you wish that you worked with Rockwell and co.
Notable performances: I’ve said it before but Sam Rockwell is super underrated. He does a perfect job in this one. But probably the two best performance come from Toni Collette – who plays the role of affectionate mother and pleasing girlfriend brilliantly. The other notable performance comes from Steve Carell – who is unbelievably unlikable in this film despite him being largely a likable person in every other film.
Trivia: In an interview, writer/director Jim Rash said the script’s main inspiration was the opening scene, inspired by a similar conversation he had with his own stepfather when he was 14.
About the Author: Dean is a blogger, writer, filmmaker and film fanatic. He is also a co-founder of BTG Lifestyle.