Directors: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash. Sycamore Pictures/Walsh Company/OddLot Entertainment/What Just Happened (12A)
Producers: Tom Walsh, Kevin J. Walsh.
Writers: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash.
Camera: John Bailey.
Music: Rob Simonsen.
Sets: Mark Ricker.
Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph, Liam James, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet.
Shy and awkward teenager Duncan (James) is happy on the outside, preferring to hang around his Mother’s (Collette) apartment rather than mixing with his peers. That all changes one summer when they go on holiday with her over-bearing boyfriend Trent (Carell) who delights in denigrating and emasculating him. A chance bike ride to the local water theme park and meeting manager Owen (Rockwell) and his dysfunctional staff sees him getting a summer job that will change his outlook on life forever.
Just as the British summer ends (and it’s been a great one for once), the indie side of Hollywood gives us a blissfully funny holiday comedy to help ease us into the winter months. This is a film to settle into your sofa, possibly nestle into a loved one, and wait for the belly laughs to spring forth.
A slow-burner, you’ll probably want to walk out of the theatre during the first 30 minutes as we concentrate on getting to know some superficially horrible people in a serious family drama. This first third of the film is protracted a little too much to engage you as enjoyable character developement.
It all seems to going way, way back to nowhere until James meets Rockwell and the film suddenly jumps to life.
The comedy scores because it comes not from crudity or big pratfalls and slapstick action, but from the warm and inoffensive humour of the characters and their sweetly idosyncratic selves. The jokes can be a little silly, but are never immature, offensive or bodily part/function oriented. Quite a refreshing change considering the tone of most American blockbuster ‘laugh’ fests.
Rockwell has the best part as an adult who, if he wasn’t such a showman, is so laid back he would be in a coma. He is the focus of the kind of chilled laughs the film-makers are aiming for, but the film works on this level because of the quality of the ensemble acting as a whole. Apart from Janney, Collette is an affecting dramatic foil as an eternally hopeful romantic, Carell is quietly impressive as her manipulative, covert agressive lover, Rudolph as Rockwell’s patient girlfriend and especially Janney as the piss-head neighbour being a notable exception and forming the bridge to the laughs to come, her loud and indiscreet dialogue about her son’s lazy eye providing a delicious levity.
At the centre of these breezy larks is James, who is a little revelation as the directionless teen who finds a voice. It’s a performance that quietly impresses and the little things are actually what you notice most about this turn, such as the hunched over shoulders, jerky walk and difficulty maintaining eye contact for long. He’s the very embodiment of every shy and retiring teen boy, a champion of the hormonally challenged.