Skip to Navigation Skip to Main Content
Fox Searchlight

Road trip follies

Profile image for By Boo Allen / Film Critic
By Boo Allen / Film Critic

‘Way Back’ explores eternal awkwardness of being a teen

Going on a summer vacation can be fun. Or, you can go with your parents.

The Way, Way Back examines this bittersweet experience, while also exploring how it’s possible to be alone even when in a crowd.

The new comedy features an often-torturous coming-of-age saga written and directed by Jim Rash and Nat Faxon. These two well-known television character actors also co-star in supporting roles.

Their 14-year-old protagonist, Duncan (Liam James), discovers he fits in nowhere while on the road for a summer sojourn with his mother, Pam (Toni Collette), her arrogant boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carrell), and his standoffish teen daughter.

Duncan feels isolated, whether around his mother and her friends, or with the small sampling of teens at the daily beach gatherings. Rash and Faxon perfectly capture this outsider feeling of angst.

Subsequently, Duncan loosens up and finds himself only when stumbling into a part-time job at a water park facility run by a fast-talking, irreverent man-child, Owen (Sam Rockwell).

The film shifts into a higher gear when either Rockwell or animated next-door neighbor Betty (Allison Janney) appear. Rockwell takes the predominant role, picking up the film’s pace whenever on-screen, while his character communicates maturing wisdom to Duncan. It helps that Owen is funny and wise in his admonitions to his younger protege.

Rash and Faxon struggle to flesh out the rest of Duncan’s time during this so-called vacation. They also battle the obvious lags in the rest of their well-intentioned film.

The teen develops the requisite summer crush, while various adult indiscretions and rivalries play out in the sun and sand, with the arrogant receiving a predictable measure of humiliation — which should make any summer vacation satisfying.

 

MOVIE RATING

The Way, Way Back

***

Rated PG-13, 102 minutes. Opens Friday at the Magnolia Dallas and Angelika Plano.