07/30/2013 05:22 pm ET Updated Sep 29, 2013

Popcorn Preview: The Way Way Back

Film: The Way Way Back (2013)
Cast includes: Steve Carell (The 40 Year Old Virgin), Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense), Allison Janney (The West Wing), AnnaSophia Robb (Bridge to Terabithia), Sam Rockwell (Conviction), Maya Rudolph (Bridesmaids), Liam James (2012)
Writers/Directors: Nat Faxon (Walk Hard: The Dewy Cox Story), Jim Rash (One Hour Photo)
Genre: Comedy | Drama (103 minutes)

"Duncan. Duncan. Let me ask you something... on a scale of 1 to 10, what do you think you are?" "I don't know," says Duncan from his seat in the very back of Trent's vintage station wagon. "I think you're a 3," says Trent. "Since I've been dating your mom, I don't see you putting yourself out there, Buddy." The good news is that their summer at Trent's beach house is going to offer 14-year-old Duncan lots of eligible girls. "You can try to get your score up... you up for that, Buddy?" (This is meant to be encouraging!) When they arrive at Riptide (Trent's house), Betty, the intensely vivacious neighbor next-door, starts right in where they left off last summer. "Hello Sailor! I'm off the wagon, and they're already talking crap about me... everyone's back (not Betty's husband, though)... he decided he's gay... Peter had eye surgery... finally fixed his lazy eye and now it's even worse." Betty's daughter Susanna is as sullen as Duncan... "a walking mood," says Betty. But the gossip and the party must go on.

Duncan's mom Pam doesn't always look comfortable with the goings on, but she's trying to make it work with Trent. It's been a year since the divorce, and she hopes she and Duncan can become a family with Trent and his daughter. Wonder why Trent's friends Joan and Kip find that idea amusing? The next morning, there's $20 and a note on the table... "Sleeping in. Mom." Duncan finds a cute pink bicycle in the garage and finally puts some distance between himself and Riptide. Thanks to Pac-Man, Duncan meets Owen, a take-no-prisoners jokester who's the manager at Water Wizz, a funky water park in town. Trent wonders why Duncan is out so much. "If we're gonna make this work, Buddy, there has to be trust and respect." (Trent's never at a loss for words of encouragement.) Meanwhile, Owen finds Duncan's shyness endearing and offers him a job at Water Wizz. The day Duncan earns the nickname of "Pop n Lock" is the first day we see him smile.

Duncan doesn't tell anyone at the house about his job or friends at Water Wizz. The only one who finds out is Susanna, who has her own reasons for wanting to get out. When she figures out where Duncan goes every day, she finds a totally different Duncan from the one next door. The Water Wizz Duncan actually has swagger! The Way Way Back is a fast moving story, chocked full of interesting characters and fun details. You don't have to be a teenager to relate to this story because many of the issues and character types are familiar to all of us. The depiction of summer in a beach community... "like spring break for adults"... is so authentic you'll feel the sand between your toes. It's fun to watch familiar actors playing unexpected characters... Steve Carell as the heavy (Trent) and Allison Janney as the boozy, bubbly Betty. Unlike many summer comedies, the conflicts aren't all wrapped up at the end. But all in all, the characters we're rooting for learn positive lessons that will serve them long after summer's over. "There's a whole world out there for you, Duncan. Don't settle."

3 popped kernels (Scale: 0-4)
14-year-old boy spends the summer at the beach with his mom and her new boyfriend

Popcorn Profile
Rated: PG-13
Audience: Teens & Young Adults
Distribution: Mainstream wide release
Mood: Neutral
Tempo: Zips right along
Visual Style: Unvarnished realism
Primary Driver: Character development
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Pure entertainment & Thought provoking

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