The story centers on Duncan (Liam James), an, um, awkward 14-year-old boy who's headed on summer vacation by the seashore with his mother, Pam (Toni Collette); her obnoxious boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell); and his surly daughter, Steph (Zoe Levin).
For oddness' sake, Trent drives an old Buick station wagon with a "way, way back" - the third seat that faces rear. And Duncan is in the way, way back, both literally and figuratively. His divorced mom is trying to build a new life, mostly for herself, and she figures Trent is about the best she can do.
Duncan doesn't think much of Trent, and with good reason. Trent really is a jerk. And Carell, cast against type, does a great jerk.
The ocean shore community is filled with character, none bigger or more brazen than next-door-neighbor Betty (Allison Janney), who steals every scene she's in. And whose daughter, Susanna (Annasophia Robb), proves quite an attraction for Duncan.
Duncan, however, is looking for a father. His own father is out of the picture. Trent is no substitute. So he latches on to the oddball manager of the local water park, Owen (Sam Rockwell), and a weird (but not strange) friendship is born.
"The Way, Way Back" was written by and marks the directorial debut of Nat Faxon ("Ben and Kate") and Jim Rash ("Community") - see what happens when you give a couple of sitcom stars an Oscar? (They won an Academy Award for the "The Descendants.")
Actually, they do a fine job. "The Way, Way Back" isn't perfect. There are under-developed and undeveloped characters. And it's a bit sitcommy in one way - the kids are wise beyond their years nd the adults are childish.
But it's funny. And touching. And awkwardly appealing.
Scott D. Pierce