Every summer or so, we are lucky to get a respite from all the special effects disaster films. Usually the Brits do the honors, but occasionally America comes through (think back to LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE). This year it's THE WAY WAY BACK,
a low key comic drama about a family vacation to a beach house owned by an obnoxious control freak Trent, played to the nastiest hilt by Steve Carrell). Steve is wooing recent divorcee Betty ( Toni Collette), who is emotionally fragile and just wants taking care of. Her 14 year old son Duncan is resistant to his potential new dad, especially after he sees how he manipulates him and his Mom.
But help is on the way. One day Duncan finds himself at an old water park run by some engaging slackers, and his new job at the park and friendships with his fellow employees change his life. It's wonderful to see young actor Liam James inhabit the part of Duncan. When we first see him in the back of Trent's station wagon he is hunched into himself and looks like Hamlet as a young teen, but Owen, a punchy, punny manager, pulls Duncan out of his slump and shows him the pleasures of summer. Owen is played by Sam Rockwell with a relish that takes no prisoners. Sure, he's a thirtyish adolescent, but there's real caring within. This is NOT the usual Seth Rogen or Adam Sandler approach. There's also a spot-on comic turn by Allison Janey as a tipsy neighbor. She practically steals the movie. You can't wait for to come back on.
There are a few contrived moments in the film, but THE WAY WAY BACK is a family film that deserves a big audience. It's funny without being crude, it's loving without being mawkish, and it's beautifully acted and directed. SEE IT!