xXx: Return of Xander Cage
The last forty minutes of the movie do come together in a pretty diverting way.
The hero of "The Way, Way Back" is named Duncan. He's fourteen. He has the posture of a boiled shrimp. He walks like an old man with an untreated hernia. He rarely speaks, not because he has nothing to say, but because he's terrified of sounding stupid, immature or uncool. He's one of the most physically awkward young men in the history of coming-of-age movies, and if you've seen even a couple of examples from this genre, you know what an achievement that is. As written by the filmmaking team of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (screenwriters of "The Descendants"), and as performed by star Liam James, the kid is as hard to watch as he is easy to sympathize with. At times he seems on the verge of literally crawling out of his own skin and leaving a husk behind.
"The Way, Way Back" is about The Summer that Changed Everything. While vacationing at a beach house with his divorced mother, Pam (Toni Collette), her quietly domineering new boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) and Trent's rhymes-with-witchy teenage daughter Steph (Zoe Levin), Duncan musters the courage to stand up for himself and his rather meek mom. He gets his first real job at a water park run by a talkative, funny, lovable flake named Owen (Sam Rockwell). He learns to have a semi-comfortable conversation with a lovely neighbor girl (AnnaSophia Robb of "The Carrie Diaries"). He even dances, stiffly, and learns to be cool, if "cool" is a synonym for "not obviously miserable."
As you may have guessed, all the triumphs in this film are relative to Duncan's starting place. That's what makes "The Way, Way Back" feel somewhat special, even though you've seen its component parts before, and the parts don't always fit together naturally.
There's humiliation on the home front. Trent isn't an ogre, but he's far from Prince Charming. Oedipal conflicts aside, our hero has legitimate reasons to hate him. The film's skillful opening sequence sets the tone for their relationship: as the women slumber in the car en route to Trent's summer home, he demands that Duncan rate himself on a one-to-ten scale. Trent is represented solely through shots of his eyes reflected in the car's rearview mirror. This technique puts us in the hero's shoes, and visually as well as verbally establishes that this movie is about getting over the obsession with how others see you, and deciding to see yourself more charitably. It's no coincidence that Robb's character, Susannah — the daughter of Trent's summer neighbor, the boozy, pushy divorcee Betty (Allison Janney) — warms to Duncan in direct proportion to how much Duncan warms to himself.