The coming-of-age tale is sometimes too easily dismissed by critics as a safe and unimaginative way out for filmmakers and audiences who are perhaps a little too comfortable with the cosy familiarity the genre offers. Predictability has its pitfalls, but a film that rises to the occasion without challenging convention can be just as rewarding as one that takes greater risks.
Take The Way, Way Back, for example.
Like others in the genre, it is laden with bittersweet moments for its young protagonist, but it also has an indie sensibility that lives up to its early promise. Written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, it features a good script, a fine cast and a likable, easy-going charm that gives it a head-start over the competition. The first-time directors shared a screenwriting Oscar with Alexander Payne for The Descendants (2011) and in the hands of dialogue- driven filmmakers, capable actors usually have the opportunity to shine.
That proves to be the case with The Way, Way Back, which starts with a road trip and a memorable opening scene where 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James), sitting sulkily in the rear-facing seat of a station wagon, is being verbally crushed by his mother Pam's (Toni Collette) boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell).
Duncan is shy and socially awkward while Trent is a cruel and overbearing jerk - it's an uneven contest and also equally clear they will never be the best of friends.