Duncan (Liam James) is an awkward 14 year old who is forced to spend the summer with his mother, Pam (Toni Collette), her jerky boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell), and his daughter Steph (Zoe Levin) at Trent’s beach house. Duncan struggles to deal with his mother’s relationship to her boyfriend, but finds friendship and understanding when he befriends the manager, Owen (Sam Rockwell), of a local water park.
Although many critics are lauding this film, I cannot seem to understand why. The story and characters seem to be not enough and too much at the same time. Steve Carell’s character is supposed to be a scumbag but I didn’t start to dislike him until the end of the film. Throughout most of the movie, he seemed to act like most parents do by telling Duncan to check-in whenever he was out, clean up after himself, etc. On the other hand, Trent’s daughter Steph was an exaggerated character a la “Mean Girls” but without the self-aware humor.
The main character Duncan didn’t make sense to me. You’re supposed to relate to his plight, pity his circumstances and root for his transformation (though I did none of those things). Duncan seemed to be too awkward and overly attached to his mother. He sulked for the entire first half of the film. He glared at the adults whenever they were enjoying themselves. When it came time for Duncan to find his confidence, it felt shallow.
Sam Rockwell as Owen was the only saving grace for this film even though his character was a cliché. As the manager of a local water park, he befriends Duncan and easily instills confidence in the young teenager because Owen himself cannot grow up. Though he is witty and charismatic, Owen is another sad example of how this movie never quite delivers.
Other supporting characters add humor to the story, but no real substance. Allison Janey as next-door neighbor Betty is the same funny, inappropriate parent she was in “Away We Go” (2009). Maya Rudolph as Caitlin, Owen’s employee/love interest, seems to be the only sensible person in the film.
The biggest problem I had with the movie was that it seemed to follow an 80’s type of awkward-teen-finds-confidence formula rather than a contemporary take on the situation. It’s 2013 now – where nerds are the new cool and everyone wants to be the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. So why is Duncan ostracized and bullied?
Skip it. On the surface the film seems like another indie, coming-of-age story but when you start to really think about the plot and characters, nothing adds up. Go see “The Kings of Summer” instead.
Release Date: Limited Release
Run Time: 103 minutes
Writers: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Starring: Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Sam Rockwell, Liam James