Sunday, July 28, 2013

Coming of Age On Film

Lost among the big robots and superheroes that are part of every movie summer season are small films that express more about life that wrecking stuff.

This year, two movies looked at how two teenagers spent their summer: a boy who would rather be somewhere else, and a girl who wants to know what sex is before heading off to college.

The Way Way Back started its run a couple of weeks back after some positive buzz from critics. It has a good cast, and the writers of The Descendants, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, directed and wrote this film about a 14 year old kid named Duncan (Liam James) who heads to a summer home with his mom (Toni Collette) and her new boyfriend Trent (Steve Carrell) who is a bit of a jerk. Located next door to the house are Betty, a brassy divorcee and her two kids. It's not long before Duncan feels like a fifth wheel while the adults have fun. Trent is trying to bond with Duncan, but it's not going well, especially when he calls Duncan a "three" on a scale of ten.

Duncan decides to head to a nearby water park run by Owen (Sam Rockwell). He's also a jerk but a lovable one who sees something in Duncan. The summer becomes more bareable, especially when he gets to know Susannah (Annasophia Robb), Betty's daughter. Things take a dark turn when Trent does something that lowers his grade way below three.

James may be familiar to those who watched The Killing, and he does very well as a kid who trying to deal with a potential stepfather, and a summer love. Carrell is also good in a role that's much different than his nice-guy roles in previous movies. Janney also keeps things lively in her role as a mom who should know better.

On the other end of the spectrum is The To-Do List, about Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza), a grade-A
student from Boise who decides her summer project will be losing her virginity. That was after her friends take her to a wild party, and she gets one look at Rusty (Scott Porter), a very handsome guy.
The best thing about this movie is Plaza as the nerd who decides, to quote Spike Lee, she's gotta have it. Sure she's 29 (which surprises me, actually), but she's very funny as a brainy girl who approaches the "first time" from a clinical approach. She lists all the sexual acts she has to approach before the ultimate goal of Rusty. It's not long before she finds out real feelings are also part of the process, since she uses her study pal Cameron (Johnny Simmons) to perform some of them. As she did in Safety Not Guaranteed, she proves she's much more than April on Parts and Recreation.

In the meantime, she works as a lifeguard (and can rock a red, one-piece Speedo) at a local pool...where Rusty works. I did like her relationship with Willy (Bill Hader), the manager, especially when she finds out a big secret that could threaten his job.

Her relationship with her pals Fiona (Alia Shawkat, who has changed a LOT since her first season on Arrested Development) and Wendy (Sarah Steele) is also funny. It's amazing how much they think they know about sex, mainly from Penthouse or Cosmo.. It's too bad the movie does haven more scenes with Brandy's family. Sure, we know big sis Amber (Rachel Bilson) and her first time, but there should have been a couple more scenes with Connie Britton and Clark Gregg as her parents. Britton does do well in her scenes to prove she's racier than most wives. Gregg does get in some good scenes towards the end.

The movie also brings back the 90s very well, from VCRs to ancient video games. Andy Samberg is also a riot as a faux Eddie Vedder who helps Brandy check off something in her list.

The movie hasn't pleased everyone, maybe because it's a sex comedy with no nudity, but Plaza is the best reason to see the movie. Considering the film was made for one point five million bucks, and it's a chance to show female-centered teen sex romps can work, it's a good film, and may inspire more teen sex films from s girl's viewpoint.


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