20 July 2013

Way Way Entertaining

There’s nothing quite like a sullen, introverted teen to add life to a movie. Or depth to an acting career, perhaps? All you have to do is maintain a lifeless expression, mumble briefly in response to comments that are directed your way and go off on your own a lot. On the other hand, there is nothing quite as uplifting as seeing such a sullen, introverted teen come into his own, if only a little, and start to be a part of something.

This is that movie. Parents divorcing, the boy gets dragged along on a summer vacation away from his familiar setting, to what one of the other characters described as “Spring Break for Adults”, a New England beach town. It didn’t help that they were going to the summer place of his mother’s new boyfriend, played like a total dick by Steve Carell.
From telling him he was a “3” (on a scale of 10) on the trip there to making him the only one to have to wear a lifejacket on an outing on a friend’s boat, Carell’s character thoroughly alienates our sullen teen. It doesn’t help when the teen sees him in compromising situations with the wife of the boat friend (i.e. cheating on his mother).

One little thing that I will have to learn to get past is my identification of Toni Collette with her “United States of Tara” character. I kept expecting her personality to change, especially during moments of stress! I know that’s not fair, but it will only wear off after I get to see her in more and varied roles. In this role, I don’t particularly like her character until she finally sides with her son.

There’s a way out and a way forward, however. Finding a little girl’s bike in the garage, our teen rides forth to explore and discovers the local waterpark. It’s the kind of place that you spend all your time at when the beach is not an option for you, and the staff is as laid back and welcoming as you would want them to be.

Sam Rockwell’s character, owner of the waterpark, is a smooth operator and probably sees his own awkward youth in our teen. Or he sees any number of awkward teens who frequent his waterpark day in and day out through the summer. Whatever his motivation, he makes a place for our teen to be a part of something, and you can see the positive effect on him. More confident, even happier, he’s almost able to talk to the neighbour girl in a way that stimulates her to continue the conversation. But, like I said, it is always a joy to watch an outcast find his place and blossom.

I won’t spoil the ending so much as I will describe a couple of my favourite parts. First, the relationship between neighbour Allison Janney and her lazy-eyed son River Alexander. Janney plays the kind of brassy party girl of a certain age that I would normally not warm to, but some exchanges with her son on the subject of where he is looking (eyes pointing in different directions making that difficult to discern) are laugh-out-loud funny.

The other one is the warmth of Sam Rockwell’s character. It helps that he’s easy on the eyes, but his character shows warmth and friendliness for all kinds of misfits — pretty and not — and he has a couple of serious moments that will make you want to cry. Intervening between Steve Carell and Liam James (have I gone on this long without mentioning the name of the actor playing the sullen teen?) is one of the best of those moments.

It isn’t the film of the century for sure, and the plot might be somewhat predictable (when you’re focused on a sullen teen, there are pretty much only two ways to go with it, and this was billed as a comedy, not a tragedy), but it was good fun to watch. Even in my freshly rain-soaked state, despite the odd too-loud laughing of the guy down front (sometimes he laughed for no apparent reason) and in the face of the menacing thunder outside that we could hear all the way into our cinema. Go see it.

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