A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

Tag: Steve Carell

The Way, Way Back…to the Courthouse?

By Noah Forrest

 “The Way, Way Back,” out now on DVD and on demand, is a charming coming-of-age story with some compelling legal quagmires that might not be apparent at first blush.

The film follows awkward 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James), who spends a summer vacationing with his mother (Toni Collette) at her new boyfriend’s beach house.  Duncan does not get along with Trent, his mother’s boyfriend. (Steve Carell, the nicest guy in Hollywood plays a snake of a man with admirable ease).  Trent belittles Duncan, at one point telling the young teenager matter-of-factly that in his estimation, on a scale of one to ten, young Duncan rates a “three.”  Miserable and alone, Duncan gets on a bike and visits a water park, where a free-spirited and kind manager, Owen (Sam Rockwell doing his best impression of Bill Murray in Meatballs), gives the boy a job.

The film is the directorial debut of actors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who won Academy Awards for writing “The Descendants,” and they imbue the film with heart and humor. And, for this reporter, legal angles.

First, there is the scene when Mr. Carell’s character makes a move towards Duncan as if he was going to strike him; Trent is ultimately held back by the mother and friends.  But what if Trent had hit Duncan and the mother sanctioned it?  Would this be viewed as child abuse (because Trent was not married to Duncan’s mom), or would the law deem this to be part of acceptable parenting?  What if the corporal punishment was okayed by the parent?

Second, Duncan’s mother did not know that he was working at the waterpark. Nobody knew, or much cared, what Duncan did with his time, so long as he wasn’t moping around the house and getting in the way.  Is this kosher?  What happens if Duncan had been injured at the park?  Who is liable in that situation: the park owners for not requiring that Duncan receive his parent’s permission or the parent for being negligent?

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