Dave's Rating:

3.0

Are you ready for the summer?

I hear they're remaking Meatballs, which is the kind of Hollywood disaster-news I'm immune to at this point. And, who knows, it could even turn out to be all right. That Footloose update was actually energetic and fun, so anything can happen. But it doesn't matter what they do, really, good or bad, because Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (The Descendants) already beat them to it.

This one's not set at a cut-rate summer camp but at an aging water park near a beach town. It's also largely a family comedy/drama about unhappy 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James), a boy whose face suggests he's always about 60 seconds away from angry tears. Duncan's still wounded by his parents' divorce and the way his father abandoned him in the process. But here he's seething mostly over his mother's (Toni Collette) relationship with a secretly cruel, phony-nice-guy boyfriend (Steve Carrell). It's an arrangement Mom's entered merely to stave off her own loneliness, her reasoning a disheartening "might as well." When Duncan resists new-family togetherness in favor of sulking and exploring the town on his own, he finds his way into covert employment at Water Wizz, where park manager Owen (Sam Rockwell) does as little as possible to the consternation of his on-again-off-again girlfriend (Maya Rudolph). Owen immediately takes Duncan under his irreverent, Bill Murray-inspired wing and mentors him in the ways of goofing off and talking to girls.

The family revelations, hormonal developments and awkward sexual first-moves that follow are strictly ABC Family-level stuff, catalysts for miserable adolescent reaction. But as that hurt teenager, James displays deeper levels of confusion and free-floating rage; not much older than the character he plays, he's got fresh access to the kind of perceived powerlessness that kids carry around with them until they grow up a little and realize they don't need it anymore. Rockwell, meanwhile, is funny from start to finish, even as he injects a darker, less-than-perpetually-cool streak into the go-nowhere Owen.

Best of all, as first-time directors, Faxon and Rash don't force their own script to be more than it is; most "big" moments are scaled back to appropriately human-sized, character trumps incident and digressions are not only allowed but cultivated. They lay off the pushy sell and allow for quiet to simply be quiet, something more rare than a tentpole release not starring The Rock. The result is sweet, low-key and charming, a coming-of-age movie nobody asked for that's welcome all the same.

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