Liam James and AnnaSophia Robb
Photo Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Liam James and AnnaSophia Robb

This is my favorite film of the summer so far. It entertained me and left me with a feeling of satisfaction that’s all too rare, especially at this time of year, when Hollywood shoots off its biggest guns. The Way, Way Back is best described as a comedy, but like many of the best films in that genre it’s rooted in truth: honest observations about family dynamics, adolescence, dependence and independence. I loved it.

Liam James, whom some of you will recognize from his roles on the TV series Psych and The Killing, plays a sullen 14-year-old boy whose divorced mom (Toni Collette) has dragged him and his sister to the summer home of her obnoxious boyfriend (Steve Carell) in a New England seaside community. Here he must learn to sink or swim, figuratively speaking, in an adult world that remains a mystery, populated as it is by a variety of oddballs (including Allison Janney and Rob Corddry). He finds unexpected refuge at a nearby water park that’s run with reckless abandon by a free spirit, played with charismatic, comic gusto by Sam Rockwell. Maya Rudolph is also quite good as his long-suffering assistant.

Sam Rockwell-Liam James
Photo Courtesy of Fox Searchlight
The Way, Way Back marks the directorial debut of writer-performers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who collaborated with Alexander Payne on the screenplay of The Descendants. While they fill relatively minor roles in this film, they imbue the characters around them with three-dimensional qualities that give the movie its enormous appeal. What’s more, they don’t take the easy way out of difficult story situations; ultimately, it’s not just the boy who grows and changes over the course of the film. I especially like the resolution; it feels right, and even better, it dodges Hollywood cliché.

This, to me, is a perfect summer movie cocktail: funny, endearing, poignant, and true…entertainment that respects its audience. Don’t miss it.