film review: the way back

you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll want to go to a water park.

by rebecca willa davis

The word "quirky" gets thrown around way too much. Like "hipster," it's used to describe many more things than it can actually be. A crazy-patterned skirt? Quirky! A tap-dancing indie band? Quirky! A person who acts weird but you don't' want to say they're weird? Quirky!

Movies get it more than almost anything else; from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to Little Miss Sunshine, all it has to do is somehow, somewhere break with Hollywood conventions to get the label. And I'm certain that The Way Way Back, a new movie out July 5 about family dysfunction and finding yourself (from Community's Jim Rash and Ben and Kate's Nat Faxon) is going to be described as quirky. It's got socially awkward characters, an indie soundtrack, and big-name actors slumming it in non-flashy roles. But it's not--and that's not a bad thing.

Instead, the movie about a awkward teenage boy (newcomer Liam James) forced to spend the summer with his mom (played by Toni Collette) and her obnoxious new boyfriend (Steve Carell) at his beach house is less about being weird and more about being totally normal; that is, experiencing feelings and dealing with problems that we all go through, be it coping with parents who don't get you, girls who freak you out, and a world that everyone else seems to be having fun in but you.

The romance between James' Duncan and his summer neighbor (played by AnnaSophia Robb) feels a bit forced--we'd be happy if the sweet moments of connection between them were kept platonic--but the subplot involving a rundown water park and a stand-in dad make up for it.

So no, a few craaaaazy characters do not a quirky movie make--and don't let anyone fool you into thinking that about this flick, but for a tale of summer freedom (and the ways in which it somehow sets us all free), The Way Way Back delivers.