"The Way, Way Back": Quirky Family Dramedy About Redefining the Back Seat

The Way, Way Back Let us assume this film's title refers to its young protagonist's self-assigned seat in the family station wagon, from which he bursts free to a heartstring-tugging music swell near the end. For what this is, that's subtle enough. Writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, the Oscar-winning adapters of The Descendants, here co-direct their earlier script, another melancholic beach-house comedy of sympathetic middle-class white folks whose failed marriages are hard on their adolescent kids. Producers and actors from Little Miss Sunshine complete the cutely movieish family-dysfunction formula. An awkward, inward 14-year-old (Liam James), drifting apart from his divorced mom (Toni Collette) and her douchey new beau (Steve Carrell), endures his strained summer vacation with help from a friendly water-park manager (Sam Rockwell) who helps the kid come of age. Consequently, he does all right with the perfectly available pretty blonde girl (AnnaSophia Robb) next door, and even redraws the boundaries within that station wagon. The supporting cast includes Allison Janney, Amanda Peet, Rob Corddry, and Maya Rudolph, all generously doing their duty to nudge both the awkward and the feel-good moments forward. But Rockwell is the highlight here, exuding great warmth, wit, and just enough irony to make even the bromides seem savory.

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