While driving, Trent (Steve Carrell) looks thru the rearview mirror, asking Duncan how he would rate himself on a scale from 1 to 10. Duncan is 14 yrs old, and sitting in the way back of an old station wagon, the kind where the way back seat faces out the back window. Trent pesters Duncan until he replies that he’d rate himself a 6. Trent then says that he would rate Duncan as a 3. Duncan looks around the car. His mom is asleep in the passenger seat. Trent’s daughter, Steph is sleeping with ear buds on. No one hears this exchange between Trent and Duncan. Trent continues on that this summer is a big deal. Depending on how this summer goes, this could bring some big changes for them all. They could become a family. Duncan tunes him out by putting his ear buds on.
They pass the Water Wizz Park on the way into the small sea side town decorated for Fourth of July. When they arrive at their beach house, the next door neighbor, Betty comes over to catch Trent up on who else has arrived for the summer. Apparently Trent and the family come back every summer. Betty introduces her daughter Susanna (15) who is the same age and friends with Steph, and her son Pete. She then compliments Duncan’s mom, (played by Toni Collette) on her scarf headdress.
After unloading the car, it’s apparent that Trent and Duncan’s mom want to be alone romantically. Trent tells his daughter to take Duncan along with her to the beach. Steph is rude, telling him to walk behind her, not too close. She continues to show her distain in front of her friends. When he can, Duncan escapes back to the house. He lies on the roof of the car singing aloud to REO Speedwagon’s ‘I can’t stop this feeling anymore’, and gets overheard by Susanna. Embarrassed, he slips off the roof and bolts for the house.
That night, another couple, Kip and Joanie, come over for dinner. Trent makes a point to ask Duncan in front of everyone about the dent on his car roof. He was able to pop the dent out, but asked if Duncan was sitting on the car. Duncan’s mom chimes in that they did have luggage on the roof. He agrees it could be from the luggage, but his look says he knows it was Duncan. Duncan says nothing. At dinner, the adults get drunk and Kip and Joanie start telling stories about previous summers and passing out on the dunes. Duncan’s mom tries to share a similar story, but it falls flat. Duncan gets permission to leave the table, Trent calls him to come back to take his empty plate to the kitchen. ‘Everyone works around here.’ Duncan escapes to the porch and he sees Suzanne next door. She tries to flirt with him about REO Speedwagon, but he is uncomfortable and instead makes a comment about the hot weather.
Next morning, Duncan finds a note that his mom had a late night. She left him twenty dollars to go and have fun. Duncan goes exploring in the garage and finds an old bicycle of Steph’s complete with handle bar streamers and a tiny pink basket in front. He bikes into town with a smile on his face. He goes into a deli and buys a soda. He takes it over to watch a guy who is playing a classic PacMan game. The guy, Owen (Sam Rockwell), is excited as he’s on the cherry level. Duncan replies that the cherry level is the first level, that there is a pattern to win each level. The guy says he’s not interested in using patterns. He likes to go his own way. He lets Duncan play out the last PacMan and tells him ‘no using patterns’.
When Duncan gets home, they’re packing the car to go out on Kip’s boat. Trent let’s Duncan know that he worried his mom. That he needs to leave a note where he’s going and what time he’ll be back. Trent makes Duncan wear a huge oversized life vest. Duncan knows how to swim but per his mom, gets nervous around water. Duncan complains that no one else has to wear one. Trent says this way they don’t have to worry about him and can all enjoy the trip. Duncan sits inside the boat looking miserable. Steph and Susanna are sunbathing on the front deck of the boat. Steph makes a point to have Suzanne look at Duncan and calls him a loser. While on the boat, Joanie asks how Trent and Duncan’s mom met. They met when she was catering an event. He pursued her, and finally told her that they were already in this together. That was almost one year ago. Duncan’s mom is wearing another scarf headdress. As she and Trent have a romantic kiss, Joanie looks a little jealous at the exchange. Back at the dock, Duncan throws down the life vest and walks off. Trent calls him to come back to carry things to the car.
That evening, Kip and Joanie stay for dinner again. When Duncan comes down, the dinner table is empty and all the adults are drunk running over to the beach via the sand dunes. Trent has a double standard as the table is littered with dirty dishes. The next morning, all four adults are loudly having breakfast, still partying with Bloody Marys. Duncan angrily skips breakfast, gets the bike out of the garage, yanks off the purple streamers and takes off. He rides further out of town to the Water Wizz Park. He gets in for free by accident and slouches at a picnic bench just watching. Owen comes out onto his balcony and notices the kid. He calls out to him and includes him in his witty conversation with another employee. That afternoon, Susanna compliments Duncan on his stylish bike. She’s waiting for a call from her dad, and tells Duncan to let her know if he has any other insights about the weather.
Duncan returns to Water Wizz the next day, sitting at the same bench. Owen tells him he’ll have to leave as he’s having too much fun and it’s making other people uncomfortable. Duncan takes him literally and starts to leave. Owen calls him back and tells him there is more to the park that that one bench. Owen gives him a tour of the park, introducing him to Lewis, who runs the rental booth that nobody comes to. He asks Lewis to find a loaner bathing suit for Duncan, then takes him to the top of the Water Wizz slide. On the way up, three young boys are pestering Owen about the rumor that someone passed another person in the slide tunnel. They want to know how that guy did it. Owen confirms that it was he and he cannot share that secret. The secret stays in the tunnel.
At the top of the slide, Owen introduces Duncan to Roddy, who is an expert at having ladies in bikinis ‘hold’ for a bit of time before they let them go down the slide. This allows the guys to check out the girls while they ‘hold’. After the end of the day, Owen offers to give Duncan a ride home. They throw the bike in the back of the convertible and he mentions that this is a pretty far ride from his town. He asks what brought him out there, and Duncan doesn’t know how to answer him. He just explains that they are staying at his mom’s boyfriend’s house. When he’s dropped off, Owen mentions they could use a gofer and asks if Duncan would like to work for free at the park. Duncan says yes. As Owen drives away, Duncan’s mom wants to know who that was. She is worried that he has a friend that drives and insists that she wants to meet him. Duncan doesn’t mention the job or the water park.
Neighbor Betty is having a clambake party. Susanna approaches him at the buffet table saying he should skip the clams as that was her dad’s specialty. She asks where he goes on his bike and then says he can have his secret. As they are talking, they see Kip pay a teenager for a baggie of Marijuana. Duncan tells Susanna that his mom doesn’t smoke pot. Susanna replies that this is like Spring Break for adults. Duncan sees his mom join Kip and the others to go have a smoke. Duncan angrily throws his whole plate of food in the trash. Susanna asks if he wants to go for a walk. They talk as they walk along the beach. They watch the fireworks and Duncan mentions that his dad is living in San Diego. He has a new girlfriend, she is younger. They are getting their new place set up and then he will go live with his dad.
After the fireworks, Duncan returns to the house. He notices Joanie rubbing up against Trent on the side of the house. Trent is tempted to kiss her, but says that he can’t. Joanie replies, ‘what, just not this summer?’ Duncan flattens himself against the back of the house so that Trent doesn’t see him when he returns to the backyard party. Duncan’s mom sees Duncan hiding against the wall as Joanie comes back to the join the group. She becomes aware something might be up.
Duncan arrives for work the next day at Water Wizz. He gets a Staff t-shirt to wear. There are some kids doing breakdancing and have drawn a crowd. Owen tells Duncan to break that up by taking away the cardboard. Duncan is unsure, but Owen reminds him that he’s wearing a Staff shirt and people will listen to him, he’s the law. Duncan goes to break up the group, they first want to see his dance moves. One of the girls has him mimic her moves, and he does a good job. The crowd cheers. The dancers let him take their cardboard and he gets a new nickname: Pop N’Rock.
Next is a montage of Duncan getting more confident and having fun with everyone at Water Wizz. He wears cool shades, has learned Roddy’s talent for making ladies ‘hold’ at the top of the slide, and his confidence spills over to him winking at Steph one morning while he’s eating breakfast. He even gets a first paycheck.
One day it’s raining, so the park is closed. Stuck in the house, Duncan’s mom insists they have a day without Kip and Joanie, and finds the game CandyLand to play as a family. When it’s Duncan’s turn she suggests that he use the gumdrop short cut. Trent gets out the game rules, and reads them aloud to prove Duncan cannot use the shortcut. Upset that Trent is being so by the book, Duncan’s mom wants someone else to do her turn so she can focus on lunch. Again, Trent says per the rule book, she has to do her turn and no one can do it for her. She takes her move and then leaves the room frustrated and crying saying it’s only a children’s game.
The next day, Susanna follows Duncan on bike to discover he works at Water Wizz. She returns with her beach gear and flirts with him. Owen and Roddy use a PA system to hassle them a bit in good fun. Duncan then gives Susanna a tour of the park using some of Owen’s lines from the first day. It makes Susanna laugh. They spend the day together talking and laughing.
When Duncan comes home for dinner, he hears Trent took the car and has been gone all day without leaving a note for his mom. They even eat dinner without him. Early in the morning, Duncan hears Trent and his mom talking downstairs. Trent’s excuse is he was on Kip’s boat all day and forgot to call. By morning, Duncan’s mom seems to have accepted the apology and excuse as she’s happy and made breakfast.
That evening there is a BBQ at Kip & Joanie’s. Joanie comes out wearing a scarf headdress similar to the style Duncan’s mom wore earlier. She insists that Trent get up and dance with her. Meanwhile Kip joins the table and Betty asks Kip to take her out on his boat. Kip mentions he’d like to, but the boats up out of the water. It’s been up all week as it’s broken. Duncan’s mom realizes Trent lied to her about being on Kip’s boat yesterday and that he was with Joanie. She gets up from the table stumbles away crying towards the house. Duncan stands up and confronts her, amazed that all she’s going to do is run away and cry. He wonders why she doesn’t say something to Trent knowing that he slept with Joanie. Trent then comes over and tries to pick a fight with Duncan but Kip holds him back. Duncan then says, fine, you can stay with him. I want to go live with Dad. Trent then shares that Duncan’s dad doesn’t want him. Duncan asks his mom if this is true, and she just cries.
Duncan runs off to the beach and Susanna comes to sit next to him. She tries to talk to him, and he moves in as if to kiss her, and she backs up saying not like this. Duncan goes back to the house and overhears Trent saying to his mom that he realizes he needs to try to be better.
Feeling he has nowhere to go, Duncan grabs his bike and rides to Water Wizz. Owen is having a bon voyage party for Lewis and says Duncan can stay for a bit. It’s a fun party with dancing and a water gun fight. The next morning, Owen tells Duncan that he has to go home now. Duncan says that he never wants to leave the park. That this is the only place that he is happy. He’s not wanted by his dad and he can’t go back to the house. He then shares that Trent called him a 3 on a scale from one to ten. Owen says that’s all about Trent and nothing to do with Duncan. Owen shares that he had a dad just like that. That’s why he lives his life without rules or patterns. He does it his own way.
Duncan returns to the house to find Trent packing the car. They are going home. Duncan goes into the house and asks his mom if that is true, that they are leaving with Trent after everything Trent did. His mom say Duncan is too young to understand but that sometimes you get scared and so you do things so that you won’t be alone. Despite Duncan saying the can be fine alone without Trent, that they could rent another place here for the summer, his mom insists they are going with Trent. Duncan says goodbye to Susanna. As he turns to go, she turns him around and gives him a kiss, saying that he just surprised her when he tried to kiss her the night before.
They drive thru town and stop at a gas station. It’s right next door to the Water Wizz. Duncan debates a few moments and then opens the car door and runs over to the park. His mom follows him as Trent is stuck pumping gas. Duncan finds Owen and tells him that they are going and thanks him for everything. He says there is one thing he wants to do before he goes, and that is to try to pass him in the water slide tunnel.
There is a big PA announcement that Pop N’Rock is going to attempt to pass Owen in the Slide Tunnel. Everyone at the park gathers around the bottom of the pool to see who comes out first. Duncan’s mom enters thru the employee entrance and takes everything in. She sees Duncan is the Employee of the Month. He has the biggest smile and under his photo is ‘Pop N’ Rock’. She follows the crowd the pool.
Duncan successfully passes Owen in the slide tunnel and comes out first into the pool. The crowd is cheering as Owen makes the big congratulatory announcement for Duncan. Trent and Steph have joined up with Duncan’s mom and Trent just wants to get back to the car. He tries to reach for Duncan, and Owen steps in between saying you must be the number three guy. Nice to meet you number three. Trent then storms off to the car. Duncan introduces him mom to Owen, his friend who drives. Owen tells her that she has a very special son, very well like and will do great things. She agrees.
Back in the car, on the road, everyone is in their original positions, Duncan is in the way back, Steph is lounging in the back seat, and his mom is in the passenger seat. She looks out the window, thinking, and finally takes action by climbing over the seats to sit in the way back of the car with Duncan, symbolizing that the relationship with Trent is over.
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