The Descendants won him an Academy Award, and last year he added "co-director" to his resume by helming his own script, The Way Way Back.
The Way Way Back is a quiet coming of age story about a young teen named Duncan, forced to summer in Cape Cod with his mother and her new boyfriend. Nothing is going right for him until he meets the quirky man-child running the local water park and begins working there. Gradually, he begins to come out of his shell.
The interesting cast of the movie is what drew my attention. Toni Collette plays Duncan's mother. Steve Carell is cast somewhat against type as her overbearing boyfriend that gives young Duncan a hard time. Allison Janney is a boozy neighbor, while Rob Corddry and Amanda Peet play a free-spirited Cape Cod couple. Sam Rockwell plays the wild water park owner, and Maya Rudolph is his much put-upon employee. Jim Rash himself turns up as another sad worker. Even the young boy, Liam James, might be familiar to you if you're a fan of the TV series Psych. (He played "young Shawn" on the show for many years.)
The cast isn't the problem with this film, though. It's not even the directing, despite the fact that both Rash and his writer-director partner Nat Faxon were both new to the job. It's the aimless script, a huge drop in quality from the effort that won the two of them their Oscars. As my boyfriend humorously but astutely put it, watching this movie is like taking a bite of a hamburger, chewing it for an hour, then spitting it out -- which is to say that the movie seems like it will be good, but never actually gets there.
The first 20 minutes or so is a brisk and fun setting up of the characters. So many odd quirks are in the mix that some sort of hilarity seems sure to ensue. But once things are established, no plot truly manifests. We kept waiting for a narrative, but the film plowed along in its loosely woven "slice of life" mode. The story, such as it is, is nothing more than young Duncan's depressing life slowly (oh so slowly) becoming somewhat less depressing. A moment or two comes where it seems sparks might fly, that a plot might manifest, but things quickly settle back down into their rather dull norm.
In the end, there simply isn't much here. The performances are entertaining in places, but then it's not like this film was intended to offer a lot of belly laughs. The Way Way Back is a forgettable, D+ movie.