THE WAY, WAY BACK is the funny and poignant coming of age story of 14-year-old Duncan’s (Liam James) summer vacation with his mother, Pam (Toni Collette), her overbearing boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell), and his daughter, Steph (Zoe Levin). Having a rough time fitting in, the introverted Duncan finds an unexpected friend in gregarious Owen (Sam Rockwell), manager of the Water Wizz water park. Through his funny, clandestine friendship with Owen, Duncan slowly opens up to and begins to finally find his place in the world – all during a summer he will never forget.
There are some summers that can become a coming-of-age turning point in life. Maybe you remember your season of life or perhaps you are currently navigating that summer. Nat Faxon and Jim Rash relive those memories in the new indie comedy The Way Way Back expanding to more theaters in the coming weeks. Recently, I spoke with Nat Faxon and Jim Rash about their latest project, how it is based on past experiences as well as their lives after winning an Oscar.
The first scene of the movie sets the tone for a feature and that painfully awkward first scene, doesn’t shy away from raw emotion. With their writing, Jim Rash, who is used to creating uncomfortable laughter on the TV show Community, wanted to established the brutally honesty of painful childhood memories.
“We always like to sort of come from a place that is personal and dramatic,” Jim Rash said. “Even when we do comedy that is where the best material comes from. We don’t like to shy away from things that are personable.”
To set up the scene, Duncan (Liam James) is sitting in the ‘way, way back’ of the family station wagon and has a conversation with his mother’s jerk boyfriend Trent (played by Steve Carrell). He asks Duncan how he would rate himself. Trent insists Duncan is just a three and can improve himself by a summer at his beach house where they are en route. Jim Rash reflected on this moment in his life to confront the psychological torment and turn it into comedic relief.
“There is something cathartic about looking back on something like that and creating this story,” he said. “You endear yourself to the main character.”
Though unintentional, The Way, Way Back continues the summer indie trend established in MUD and Kings of Summer where boys separate from the adult authority at home to discover and define themselves (contrast that for a moment with the pop-culture savvy, girls gone ‘gangsta’ bad trend showcased in The Bling Ring and Spring Breakers). At least with The Way, Way Back thankfully the antogonist who is a jerk or a conflicted soul doesn’t save one of the boys from a snakebite like what happened in MUD and Kings of Summer. The Way Way Back chooses not to be as formulaic with this aspect and it pays off for being a more emotionally satisfying experience.
Like the main character Duncan, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash had their fortunes dramatically turn around. However, it wasn’t a brisk and sudden change or even getting lucky. They worked at it in the industry…for a long time, as Nat recalls.
“Certainly LA and Hollywood is a tough industry,” Faxon said. “We both spent many years struggling to make it. I think you learn and grow a lot from that. Certainly this wasn’t an over night success by any means.”
Filmmaking proved to be a better avenue for career success for them considering both Nat Faxon and Jim Rash won an Oscar for adapting the screenplay for Alexander Payne’s The Descendants.
“This whole sort of writing career took off. We did see it creating more opportunities for us then following the same formula of trying to branch out and evolve and do more,” Faxon said.
Nat Faxon auditioned as an actor for many years for various roles on television and movies. He met Jim Rash while working on The Groundlings (best described as an “improvisational and sketch comedy troupe and school”). They wanted to create additional opportunities for each other by branching out in various roles, as Nat recalled.
“We became good friends and enjoyed each others company. I always thought Jim was hilarious so the opportunity to write together was something I was always excited about,” he said. “We got along well with similar sensibilities and points of view. We creatively meshed in a way both fruitful and a lot of fun. It’s also more gratifying when you achieve a result and get to share that together.”
After winning an Oscar for writing a screenplay, Faxon looked back from the experienced overall satisfied.
“Once you’ve put in that time and spend some long months and years trying to make it to finally make it, you get to a point where you have more of a choice for decisions and opportunities,” he said. “Its more an emotional and gratifying experience. Even with the accomplishments, you can’t take anything for granted and we try to stay as even keel as possible,” Faxon said.
The Way, Way Back was very well received at Sundance Film Festival in January. Fox Searchlight even purchased the film for $10 million in the biggest deal the festival! Despite the purchasing power of a top-notch indie studio in the industry, Faxon and Rash understand not only to let it get to their head, but wanted to offer advice for aspiring filmmakers who look up to them. Rash would recommend not to worry and encourage your fellow filmmaker.
“I think we would look back and tell ourselves not to worry so much,” Jim Rash said. “You realize this is going to be an up and down lifestyle. One minute, there are great things happening and then it slows down and you cant control it. I’d encourage one to support everyone around you because any of them could be giving you job down the road and also you want to be a cheerleader as much as you want to be cheered.”
Faxon agreed with Rash and thinks it’s a good idea to figure out what you want to do in the film industry whether that is acting, writing, or directing.
“I really think it’s about creating opportunities for yourself in whatever way you can,” Faxon said. “If you wanting to be an actor, find some talented friends you can put on a show or play. There is so much opportunity online. For writing, write as much as possible and same with directing. It’s all about staying active and pursing your goals doing your best and not feeling discouraged but keep after it.”
Despite having a busy schedule between working on television and film, they maintained a focused and positive attitude balancing the various challenges of running back and forth as Faxon discussed the delicate balance.
“Putting a film together is like a house of cards. Everything has to align perfectly and magically,” Faxon said, “For this, it really did. We had a short window in the summer and get back. We finished shooting July 30th and I had a table read for Ben & Kate on August 2nd. So it was really tight, but it was really fun.”
Jim Rash hopes the experience of balancing acting and filmmaking between both television and film will challenge him as a creator.
“We started out with the idea of starting out with an acting career and have all these things merge and so we will contiune to write and hoping to direct. Our goal is to continue to evolve in all those categories, keep learning, keep getting better, and challenging ourselves by honing our writing skills and directing skills to go from there,” he said.
The Way, Way Back opens across the country this July in a roll-out expanded release in major and medium size cities. It is the perfect counter programming to loud super heroes flicks and stale comic book adaptations.