The Way Way Back (2013)

(Netflix Streaming, December 2016) A while ago, I started suspecting that I was seeing a too-limited selection of movies, and started letting my viewing being influenced by popularity lists as an opportunity to look at genres I’d normally avoid. And while I may roll my eyes at Adam Sandler comedies, weepy romantic dramas, gory horror and other movies on those lists, there’s one category that has consistently outperformed my expectations: Coming-of-age drama-comedies. From The Fault in Our Stars to Sing Street to Paper Town to The Way Way Back, I’m discovering authors such as John Green, investigating the early movies of rising stars and finding much to like in the results. The Way Way Back has a few passing similarities to films such as Adventureland, featuring a socially marginalized teen finding guidance and companionship on a summer job. Liam James is featureless but likable as the lead character, but it’s the supporting actors who often shine more brightly: Sam Rockwell is particularly good as a man-child compelled to mentor our hero, while Steve Carell plays an unusually detestable role as an antagonistic, philandering would-be father-in-law. A few familiar faces also show up in minor roles, from Maya Rudolph to Rob Corddry and Amanda Peet. The portrait of a small seaside town and its attendant water park is warm and sympathetic, fitting almost perfectly with the script’s goals. While the story is familiar and the beats are predictable, The Way Way Back is satisfying for all the right reasons. It may not set the world on fire, but it’s a sure-fire choice for a quiet evening. It may be about today’s teenagers, but the extemporal setting will ensure that the themes will resonate with a wide group.

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