The new Nat Faxon-Jim Rash movie, The Way Way Back (2013) doesn’t quite work. Fourteen-year-old Duncan (Liam James) takes a trip with his mother, his mother’s boyfriend and the boyfriend’s teen daughter to a beach house whose locale is inhabited by sundry interesting folks. Virtually none of them, I’m afraid, is complex or multidimensional, like actual human beings. Duncan’s mother, Toni Collette’s Pam, is complex enough, but where is the screenwriters’—Faxon and Rash’s—psychological insight? For Duncan, a quiet nerd, to gain self-confidence as rapidly as he does is preposterous.
Duncan’s relationship with a girl played by AnnaSophia Robb, a “love interest”, amounts to almost nothing, and that this girl has a friendship going on with the boyfriend’s teen daughter comes as a near-surprise, so glossed over is it. Even the directing in The Way Way Back—again, by Faxon and Rash—is not always what it ought to be.
What the filmmakers do well is write dialogue. It sparkles. In truth, however, the movie should be seen for its performances. Collette couldn’t be shallow if she wanted to be. Sam Rockwell and Allison Janney display marvelous energy and savvy, although with Janney there is the benefit of charm as well. Steve Carell plays a deeply flawed man adeptly and enjoyably. Ah, but it may well be that by saying the film should be seen for its performances, I’m saying that nothing else about it justifies its being seen.