I run a risk here of over-selling this film so that it won’t meet expectations or under-selling it and having you miss it. So let me frame my recommendation by saying you should see this film, but it isn’t the best thing since sliced bread; it simply does what it does very, very well.
The primary reason for the success of the movie is its honesty. When Faxon (Ben and Kate) and Rash (Community) turned their empathetic eyes and first-time directing chops to a coming of age comedy, they delivered a darkly comic, beautifully condensed story. Both are better known as actors, but clearly they have talent in many directions as they showed in 2011 as the writers of The Descendants.
While the writing and directing are beautifully understated, the movie wouldn’t have succeeded without the cast. Leading them was James (The Killing, Psych), who embodies a depressed, adolescent child of divorce in need of a catalyst. Rockwell (Moon) provides the primary comedy and heart of the story as the man-child who needs to wake up, but has wisdom to share. These two actors build the support of the story.
Around that central post, Carrell’s (Seeking a Friend at the End of the World) character opposite Collette (United States of Tara), is disturbingly honest, never crossing the line into absurdity. If he had or if Collette had, it would have all come tumbling down as broad comedy. Instead, the sad realism chugs along dragging you with it. In addition, Janney (The Oranges) gives us another fearless performance of a broken woman and Robb (The Bridge to Terabithia) an intelligent nymph you can’t take your eyes off of. In smaller, but pivotal roles, Corddry (Warm Bodies) and Peet (Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip) make appearances as well as Faxon and Rash.
The overall effect is that this film is so real at times, it is almost painful. But you can’t take your eyes off of it, even as you almost wish you could. It is a train wreck on laughing gas that ultimately sets you free.