Monday, July 8, 2013

The Way Way Back

I call bullshit on every frame of "The Way Way Back," the kind of ersatz coming-of-age comedy that wants to be petted like a dog but makes you want to kick it instead. Liam James from TV's "The Killing" plays Duncan, the beaten-down, deeply uncool son of single mom Pam (Toni Collette), forced to spend the summer with Pam's new asshole boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell). Duncan becomes the pet project of Owen (Sam Rockwell), the slacker owner-manager of the Water Wizz water park, whose girlfriend Caitlin (Maya Rudolph, looking more unattractive than I remember) does all the actual work. Owen hires Duncan and spends the summer teaching him to be a guy - an indolent, woman-objectifying guy - and this is supposed to endear him to us. (I thought of Lili Taylor's classic speech to John Cusack about the difference between guys and men in "say anything…", one of many better films this one calls to mind.)

Every line of dialogue in "The Way Way Back" - even the few witty or funny ones - screams script. Owen in particular rings false. We have all known people like Owen. They may talk in rapid fire, but most of their patter makes you roll your eyes. It's not enough to give a character a bunch of clever dialogue; we have to believe that this man would talk like this, and we don't. The movie plods its way through a predictable, unappealing plot (Trent cheats on Pam, Pam chooses to overlook it), telegraphing its emotions at every turn. We know nothing about Pam or Trent - two potentially interesting characters enacted by two talented players - except what actions they take to advance the storyline. And I didn't find young Liam James' performance particularly good; it felt effortful, often overplayed. Allison Janney, always reliable, shows up to enliven the proceedings from time to time as Trent's randy neighbor, herself the single mother of a son with a lazy eye ("Oh, just put the patch on!"), but she too is a mere creation of writer-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. Nothing in "The Way Way Back" exists in nature or happens authentically.

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