With a title that will confuse many, this film has it’s work cut out from the get go.
Shy fourteen year old “Duncan” (Liam James) accompanies his divorced mum “Pam” (Toni Collette), her new boyfriend “Trent” and his teenage daughter “Steph” (Zoe Levin) on a summer holiday to Trent’s beach house in Massachusetts.
Sitting at the very back of the old station-wagon, hence the title, Duncan knows this is not going to go well and he will not be disappointed. On the trip Trent asks if he was to rate himself 1 to 10 where would he stand, Duncan is confused. Trent handily supplies a three, so plenty of scope for improvement, therein ending the questionable motivational speech.
The situation does not improve at the beach, the girls go do catty teenage girl stuff in a rigidly hierarchical group and Duncan is paired off with the nerdy son of the local lush “Betty” (Alison Janney). Betty means well, at least she does once she has a glass in her hand.
We also get to meet Trent’s local party friends “Kip” (Rob Corddry) and “Joan” (Amanda Peet) and before long everyone is having a swimming time, literally and figuratively. Everyone apart from Duncan who feels and acts like the proverbial third leg. Stumbling across a local water-park employee “Owen” (Sam Rockwell) playing “Pacman”, the two form a bond which enables Duncan to work casually at the water-park and fill his days.
This is a classic coming of age story and James fits the bill very well, acting just like a shy fourteen year old, all elbows, bad dancing and hopeless “chit chat” with Betty’s pretty daughter.
With a cast this good, you would expect the acting to be of a high standard, Carrell playing against type makes an unlike-able character, thoroughly unlike-able. Janney does “well intended but over bearing” well enough but the stand out as usual is Collett. Generating bonhomie, real and faux one moment, leading to a quiet realisation, awkwardness and alienation the next.
The subtext of older people making compromises due to sheer practicality comes to the fore, is it ever worth settling for less, if it impacts those you love?
Those who occasionally play board games on a rainy day will also enjoy one particular key scene. Has there ever been a time when, “Let’s check the rules on the lid of the box”, ended well.
Rockwell usually watchable, remains so here but is saddled with an unlikely character, although the mentor/father relationship with Duncan does work reasonably well. The fact the “pool gang” help shape Duncan into the person he will become, rings true but the film sags badly in the middle section, almost grinding to a halt at one point. There are some questionable scenes and character quirk diversions, which distracts from the central theme.
Dual director’s Jim Rash and Nat Faxon, are also seen in the movie. Rash as “Lewis”, the slightly odd towel and bathing hut attendant. Lewis is always about to leave for better things but like everyone else, seems stuck in time and familiarity. Faxon as lecherous pool slide attendant “Roddy”, stop/ starting the line to indulge his skimpy bathing costume passion, a trick he dubiously teaches Duncan
A coming of age tale that at 103 minutes achieves what it sets out to do in the allotted time.
A gentle film with a promising start and ending on a flourish. By no means the best example of the genre but due to the strength of the cast, the film just about makes it home from the beach.