Year Released: 2013
Directed by: Nat Fax, Jim Rash
Starring: Steve Carell, Liam James, Toni Collette, Sam Rockwell
(PG 13, 103 min.)
“Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.” Joseph Campbell
Taunted by his wannabe step dad, ostracized by the mean girls at the beach, and almost invisible to his single mom, 14-year-old Duncan faces the summer vacation from hell. While this 2013 Sundance coming of age crowd pleaser veers into familiar territory, it is not formulaic. Rather, it is an epic adventure, even if the great seas are reduced to the small struggling Water Wizz Park in East Wareham, Mass.
This film is not a self-consciously indie venture like the overrated Little Miss Sunshine that also featured Steve Carell and Toni Collete. Instead it is an epic translated into modern times with several fractured/dysfunctional families at its core. However, Duncan (Liam James) is no brave Perseus going after the head of Medusa, but a social recluse who “mopes around” the apartment he shares with his mother, Pam (Toni Collette). At least that is how Trent (Steve Carell) who aspires to become his stepdad sees it.
Our first view of the two on the way to Trent’s summer cottage sets the stage in no uncertain terms. With Pam safely dozing in the front seat of the car, Trent demands Duncan rate himself on a scale of 1 to 10. While the boy ventures forth a safe 6, Trent rates him a miserable 3. A real life version of Despicable Me without any of that villain’s saving graces.
The stricken, sick look on Duncan’s face as he retreats into his iPod world vacantly starring rearward in the way, way back seat of the car says it all. We already despise Trent, who sugarcoats his sadistic nature when Pam is awake, so we are not surprised when we discover other aspects of his treachery.
Just as Perseus’ would-be stepdad sent the youth on a quest so to have a clear path to wooing his mom, so Trent’s odious behavior sends Duncan on a quest of his own. His only transportation a pink girly bike rescued from the beach house garage, Duncan sets out, away from not in search of anything in particular but peace.
What he finds is the Water Wizz Park, as cheap and cheesy as the assorted lost souls that run it, chief among them Owen, played with joyous boy/man abandon by Sam Rockwell. Shabby as it is, this is the other world that will transform Duncan. Its tortuous water slide is a plastic relic of the 80s, but it becomes a tunnel of rebirth for Duncan.
Except for Duncan, his mother Pam, and a few others, the rest of the cast might be called stock characters. Even Betty (Allison Janney), the over-the-top divorcée who steals every scene with a Phyllis Diller panache, is not much more than a colorful backdrop. Sam Rockwell’s Owen captures the screen with his joie de vie, but he remains trapped in the 80s water park, proud that he too has resisted any renovations. Several critics have complained that these supporting roles have no dimension, no back stories to explain their eccentric behavior.
Instead, I think it helps to consider all of these one-dimensional characters as archetypes instead of stereotypes. Each in his own way is a trickster, some more benign than others, to shake up Duncan's as well as his mother’s worlds, to lead them to self-discovery.
Their task is not to be transformed, but to be the agents of transformation.
Duncan’s mother, played to perfection by Toni Collette, conveys her deepest hurt as a passing shadow across her face, one that returns to the happy mask she wishes to present to the world.
It is Duncan’s quest, not to sever the head of Medusa, but to free his mother from that self-imposed mask of illusion she wears all too comfortably. On second thought, perhaps Duncan has a little Perseus in him, after all.
*Not to be confused with The Way Back, the excellent 2010 film about the dramatic escape from a Siberian prison camp.
Susanna, Duncan’s beach house neighbor, is not only beautiful, but she is the only beach girl who treats him kindly. Maybe that’s because she is suffering from her parents’ divorce just as Duncan is. She takes him on a night beach stroll to search for ghost crabs, creatures whose little eyes can see 360 degrees around them, but not anything in front of them. That, Susanna says, makes them very vulnerable, so they only venture out at night.
Maybe, the audience cannot help but wonder, more than a few of the beach residents suffer the same skewed vision and vulnerabilities.
Well, let’s not get too sentimental here. They are, after all, just crabs, and that makes me envision crabs in all their deliciousness. Our Warm Crab Parmesan Dip is just one example, good with fresh, frozen, and the canned variety. Great for the opening of Football Season, don’t you think?
This dip is a huge hit with everyone who tries it. It's even better with fresh crabmeat, but canned works fine. I took it to a party and every person wanted the recipe. Serve it with blue corn chips. This one will really wow them." — NOELLE
Warm Crab Parmesan Dip
1 (6 ounce) can crabmeat, drained and flaked
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup sour cream
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
In a small baking dish, mix the crabmeat, cream cheese, mayonnaise, Parmesan cheese, sour cream and garlic.
Bake uncovered in the preheated oven 45 minutes, or until bubbly and