Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller in ‘The Spectacular Now’/Image © A24 Films
With “The Way, Way Back” opening this week and “The Spectacular Now” coming next month, a warm-weather tradition continues: the coming-of-age epiphany movie. Start with a youth in transition (“The Wackness”) or a restless adult with unresolved issues (“A Walk on the Moon”). Add a vacation (“Dirty Dancing”), a road trip (“Little Miss Sunshine”) or a summer job (“Adventureland”). Mix in a mentor, a lover or some other catalyst, and laugh, cry, or wince at the growing pains.
Both “The Way, Way Back” and “The Spectacular Now” earned accolades at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The former gives us Duncan (Liam James), an introverted fourteen-year-old on vacation with his mom (Toni Collette), her insufferable boyfriend (Steve Carell,) and the boyfriend’s daughter. He finds a much-needed friend and unlikely role model in Owen (Sam Rockwell), the freewheeling manager of a nearby water park — kind of like the friendship between camp counselor Tripper (Bill Murray) and the lonely Rudy (Chris Makepeace) in “Meatballs.”
“The Spectacular Now” is based on Tim Tharp’s young-adult novel about Sutter (Miles Teller), an amiable but aimless high-school senior who befriends an atypical nice girl (Shailene Woodley), only to find himself in love and in over his head. It reminds us a bit of writer-director Cameron Crowe’s “Say Anything,” where an underachiever (John Cusack) woos a pretty valedictorian (Ione Skye) before she heads abroad to college, except that Sutter’s inertia and troubles stem from his hard-partying ways.
Check out these other flicks with characters who change during their time in the sun.
“Stand By Me” (1986)
Based on Stephen King’s novella “The Body,” director Rob Reiner’s film follows four boys on a hike to find a missing boy’s body over Labor Day weekend in 1959. Packed with humor, quotable lines, and great chemistry among its young leads (Will Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell), it resonates most for the connection between aspiring writer Gordie (Wheaton) and delinquent Chris (Phoenix). The heartfelt way these pals understand and encourage each other makes us all wish for friends that loyal and true. “Although I hadn’t seen him for more than ten years, I know I’ll miss him forever,” Gordie says. “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve.”
“Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation” (1962)
James Stewart is Roger Hobbs, an overworked banker whose plans for a quiet holiday at the beach become complicated thanks to extended family, nosy neighbors, and guests. Based on novel of the same name by Edward Streeter, the film earns smiles through acknowledging how parents like Hobbs and his wife (Maureen O’Hara) never really get away from it all but reap rewards moment by moment.
“The Endless Summer” (1966)
This seminal documentary from writer-director Bruce Brown follows two young surfers, Mike Hynson and Robert August, from their native California to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Tahiti, and Hawaii in search for “the perfect wave.” (Between them they pack “six pairs of trunks, two boxes of wax, some modern sounds and in case of injury, one Band-Aid.”) The Library of Congress in 2002 selected this film for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. Its dazzling photography and the surfing feats still inspire. The New York Times wrote that “the subject matter itself — the challenge and the joy of a sport that is part swimming, part skiing, part sky-diving and part Russian roulette — is buoyant fun.”
We’d bet a lot of families know a guy like Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase), who presses on even after his best-laid plans go south. Also called “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” this film follows the hapless Clark and his family on a cross-country trip to a theme park. He gradually becomes unglued as everything that can go wrong does. John Hughes adapted the screenplay from his short story about a family’s hellish road trip to Disneyland. “Everything isn’t like home,” Clark rationalizes. “If everything were like home, there would be no reason for leaving home.
“Taking Woodstock” (2009)
In 1969, an aspiring interior designer was helping his parents at their dilapidated motel in Bethel, N.Y., when he offered accommodations — and a $1 permit — to the organizers of the Woodstock music festival. The rest, as they say, was a real trip. Ang Lee directs this film based on Elliot Tiber’s memoir of the same name, with comedian Demetri Martin as Elliot and Liev Schreiber as a cross-dressing security guard. It blends “sweet interludes and others that are cheerfully over the top,” giving the movie “the freshness of something being created, not remembered,” Roger Ebert wrote.
This Steven Spielberg blockbuster based on Peter Benchley’s novel makes our list for showing a true hero’s journey. When a gigantic great-white shark stalks the waters of a summer island resort, Police Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) first tackles local politics, then rallies against his own fear of the water to battle a creature that’s seemingly unstoppable. Pure triumph.