If there is going to be one sure-fire commercial hit to emerge from Sundance 2013, I'm putting my money on The Way Way Back.
That's not the riskiest of bets, I know, given that co-writers/co-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash won an Oscar for adapting the screenplay of George Clooney hit The Descendants. But you'd be hard-pressed to find another movie at the festival that is as funny from beginning to end, or as full of winning performances, as this story of 14-year-old Duncan's trip to a beach town with his divorced mother Pam (Toni Collette) and her boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell).
Duncan (an excellent Liam James) does not much like Trent, or how his mother acts around him, but when he arrives in the little beach town for the summer, he finds relief from the family drama in a pretty neighbor girl (AnnaSophia Robb) and in a summer job at a local, run-down waterpark offered by a friendly local named Owen (Sam Rockwell--never better).
If Duncan's coming-of-age tale sounds like "been there, done that," you need to see The Way Way Back, and how well Faxon and Rash infuse it with real heart and nonstop humor. Rockwell, Allison Janney as a bawdy neighbor, and Rash himself as a nebbishy co-worker of Duncan's all elicit laughs with virtually every line they utter. And Carrell, playing against type as a real jerk, is a pleasant surprise as well.
Word is The Way Way Back has landed a fat deal, and it's well-deserved. While the movie doesn't have the so-called "edge" many look for in an indie flick, it has more going for it than most movies that ever see the light of day. I'm glad America's theaters will get a chance to show this gem--the sooner the better.
Jan. 24, 6:30 p.m., Peery's Egyptian Theater, Ogden
Jan. 27, 1 p.m., Sundance Resort