The Way Way Back (PG-13)
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First of all, I had a harder time than usual deciding how to rate this. For the early part of the movie, I was thinking I'd probably give it one smiley, and consider that generous. But that wasn't because I didn't think it was good, just because it was painful to watch. Because I so identified with how much the protagonist obviously hated his whole situation. But as the movie wore on, it got more fun, and I started thinking it would easily deserve two smileys. Later I thought two and a half. Yeah, that's sort of what I was thinking by the end, but I was also toying with the idea of giving it one heart. Orrrr maybe just four smileys. I dunno. Finally I gave it three smileys. If I ever watch it again, I may rethink that (I'd probably rate it higher if I did). It definitely seems like something I'd like more the second time, but I tend to go a long time without watching a movie a second time, so... we'll see. Also, as usual, I wasn't quite sure which category to put my review in. I could have gone with serio-comedy. Or maybe quirky. But I guess coming-of-age is best. Um... the movie reminded me of various other things. For example, when I saw the (used) DVD in the grocery store where I sometimes buy used DVDs, I was pretty sure I hadn't seen this yet, but I knew I was thinking of some other DVD I had bought there sometime before that, and couldn't quite remember what I was thinking of. (I was thinking of Moonrise Kingdom. But unlike that movie, this is set in the present; it came out in 2013. Though it kinda feels like it could be set anytime in the last 30 years.) And once I actually watched it, I suppose it vaguely reminded me of a cross between Waiting... and Adventureland. (I forget if there were any other movies it reminded me of, but either way, there are no doubt other movies to which it could be compared.) Also I want to say it was written and directed by Nat Faxon (whom I know from Ben and Kate) and Jim Rash (whom I know from Community). They both have supporting roles in the movie, as well. And... it's the kind of movie that sort of simultaneously makes me happy on account of things turning out good for someone when they start out so bad, and sad on account of I still can't believe things will ever turn out that way for me. Not that my life is so terrible, but you know... it kind of hurts seeing a protagonist with whom I identify, but who turns out to in some way be capable of more normalcy than I'm capable of. But whatevs.
Anyway, so, there's this 14-year-old boy named Duncan, who is forced to go on a summer vacation with his divorced mother, Pam (Toni Collette), and her boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell), and Trent's teenage daughter, Steph. Trent has a beach house on Cape Cod, and his next door neighbor there is a woman named Betty (Allison Janney). She's divorced, and she has a couple of sons. Her oldest son we barely see at all (and he has no lines). Her youngest is Peter, who is slightly more important to the plot. But the most important of her kids is her daughter, Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb), who is a bit older than Duncan. Anyway, when they first get there, Steph is forced to take Duncan along to the beach, where she meets up with a few friends, including Susanna. It's pretty clear Steph and most of her friends are shallow jerks or whatever, but Susanna is obviously not like them... though they don't seem to get that, and she doesn't do anything to really let them know she's not like them. But it's obvious (even before this) that she's going to become important to Duncan. And... we don't really ever see any of Steph's friends again, nor do we ever get to even know Steph very well, but I will say there are eventually scenes where I got the impression Steph might have more depth than she seemed to for most of the movie, and I do wish her character could have been explored more. But I suppose it's not important to the story.
Here's what's important: Duncan really doesn't like Trent, who talks as if he wants to be buds with Duncan, because of his relationship with Pam, but it's very clear that he's really a jerk. Also he has a couple of friends named Kip (Rob Corddry) and Joan (Amanda Peet), and obviously he's had a relationship with Joan in the past, which may not be completely over. We don't get to know any of the adults very well, but Trent, Pam, Kip, Joan, and Betty all hang out a lot, and generally act annoying, and make Duncan very uncomfortable. It does seem that Pam is aware of her son's discomfort, and feels bad about it, but she doesn't make much of an effort to ameliorate that at all. (At least not for most of the movie.) So he spends as much time as possible away from everyone. This leads him to meet a man named Owen (Sam Rockwell), who is kind of charmingly immature. He doesn't take anything very seriously, is constantly joking, which is the polar opposite of Duncan, who for quite awhile seems to take everything Owen says seriously, no matte how obvious it is that he's kidding. And I must say, I didn't find him as funny as he found himself, at first, but eventually I came to like him. He did get funnier. Anyway, I guess he is the manager of a water park called Water Wizz. He has a good buddy named Roddy (Faxon) who works there, and there's another employee named Lewis (Rash, who was the first character that I found really funny in the movie). Another employee is Caitlyn (Maya Rudolph), who is potentially a romantic interest for Owen, except that she's frequently exasperated by his adolescent behavior. And... Owen gives Duncan a job at Water Wizz, where he finally starts to loosen up and have some fun. This becomes his great escape from the unbearable awkwardness of... pretty much every other aspect of his life. Meanwhile, a tenuous, awkward friendship (and possibly more) begins to grow between Duncan and Susanna. (She has her own issues about missing her dad, which is part of what helps her bond with Duncan.)
And I guess I don't really want to say any more about the plot. Like I said, it started out painful and ended up fun. Also there was some good music. And a good cast, most of whom I was familiar with from other things. And it's always nice to see a movie that advocates the notion that being yourself is a good thing, even if most of the time it makes you unpopular. And... I dunno what else to say. It wasn't a great movie, but it was definitely good. It did weird and conflicting things to my head and my heart, which I both hate and love. (It's the kind of movie that almost makes me believe there could potentially be a place in this world for someone like me, who feels awkward and uncomfortable around pretty much everyone pretty much all of the time.) So... like I said, whatevs.