Find the way back to a near-perfect teen angst movie
Comedy/Drama/Romance. Liam James, Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Zoe Levin, Sam Rockwell, Anna-Sophia Robb, Allison Janney, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet, Maya Rudolph, River Alexander. Directors: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash.
Drawing obvious comparisons with Little Miss Sunshine, The Way Way Back is a bittersweet coming-of-age story that strikes perfect balance between laughter and tears.
First-time directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash have fashioned a near perfect portrait of adolescent angst that eschews mawkish sentimentality, yet still manages to tug the heartstrings with aplomb. Our affection for the film's painfully shy, teenage hero is galvanised in a blistering opening scene in which the lad is asked by his mother's new boyfriend to rate himself out of ten.
"I don't know, six?" responds the lad nervously, after a considerable amount of deliberation.
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"I think you're a three," retorts the boyfriend coldly, who clearly hasn't read the chapter on positive encouragement in his parenting handbook.
Fourteen-year-old Duncan (Liam James) wanted to spend the summer vacation with his father in San Diego. Instead, he's being forced to tolerate a holiday on the East Coast with his mother Pam (Toni Collette), her new boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) and his tearaway teenage daughter Steph (Zoe Levin), who doesn't want to be lumbered with a socially awkward misfit like Duncan when she could be sunbathing with her gal pals.
Feeling desperately alone in Trent's beach house, Duncan ventures to a nearby Water Wizz theme park where the wise-cracking owner Owen (Sam Rockwell) takes pity on the miserable teenager and hires him for the summer.
"I need someone to do some odd jobs, clean up some vomit," grins Owen.
Keeping the job secret from his mother, Duncan gains confidence under his reckless mentor, who only has eyes for his sassy employee, Caitlin (Maya Rudolph). The lad musters the courage to strike up a conversation with Susanna (Anna-Sophia Robb), who lives in a neighbouring beach house with her boozy mother, Betty (Allison Janney).
Meanwhile, Pam's relationship with Trent shows signs of wear and tear, exacerbated by the continued presence of his vivacious friend Joan (Amanda Peet) and her clueless partner, Kip (Rob Corddry).
The Way Way Back is a delight.
Faxon and Rash's first feature navigates a haphazard path through Duncan's growing pains with tenderness. The script spares the characters few blushes as they seek the tiniest glimmers of self-fulfilment.
James delivers an impressive, emotionally raw performance, and he is the perfect foil for Rockwell's wise-cracking man-child. Janney is a hoot as the mother from hell, who has no concept of boundaries or social graces when the liquor is flowing.
Comedy/Action/Romance. Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Ed Harris, Rebel Wilson, Tony Shalhoub, Rob Corddry, Ken Jeong. Director: Michael Bay.
Based on an outlandish true crime, comedy caper Pain & Gain seems a snug fit for director Michael Bay.
Ever since he blitzkrieged the big screen with his 1995 buddy cop movie Bad Boys, the Los Angeles-born film-maker has elevated macho posturing and wanton destruction to preposterous heights.
He reduced Alcatraz to rubble in The Rock, threatened to obliterate the planet in Armageddon and orchestrated mayhem on an apocalyptic scale with the Transformers trilogy.
So this unlikely tale of three steroid-pumped Miami gym bunnies, who live the American dream by kidnapping a wealthy businessman and torturing their hostage for his fortune, allows Bay to indulge his usual visual excesses while reducing virtually all female characters to scantily clad sex objects or dim wits.
Gender equality and nuance remain estranged from Bay's testosterone-fuelled work.
Were it not for a fitfully amusing supporting performance from the ever reliable Rebel Wilson (Bridesmaids), Bay might have been able to trim the $25 million budget by replacing all women in the film with cardboard cut-outs.
Wheeler dealer Danny Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) secures a position as manager of the Sun Gym, where he grows envious of the fabulous lifestyle of some of his clients. In particular, Danny yearns to splash the cash like Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub).
So the money-oriented meathead devises a hare-brained scheme to abduct Kershaw, aided by two fellow adrenaline junkies: personal trainer Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie), who has been rendered impotent through steroid abuse, and ex-con Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson), who has turned his life around on the outside thanks to Jesus.
Danny, Paul and Adrian are woefully inept. The trio discovers that Kershaw won't sign over his assets without a fight. Scenes of torture escalate into attempted murder but their target proves remarkably resilient and – miraculously – escapes.
Miami-Dade police fail to believe his story so Kershaw turns to retired private detective Ed Du Bois (Ed Harris) to bring Danny and his buddies to justice before they can adapt their plan for another unsuspecting victim (Michael Rispoli).
Based on a series of articles published in the Miami New Times, Pain & Gain is an ordeal.
Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely mix a heady cocktail of violence and dark humour in the style of the Coen brothers, which curdles.
Wahlberg, Johnson and Mackie embrace the dim-wittedness of their characters by forgetting to act.
The 129-minute running time is as exhausting as any gym workout, with none of the cardiovascular benefits. Bay's film is all pain with almost nothing to gain from our point of view.