Interview: Jim Rash and Nat Faxon discuss The Way, Way Back
Even before winning an Oscar for writing the screenplay on The Descendents alongside director Alexander Payne, the writing team of Jim Rash and Nat Faxon was busy crafting a script about what happens when kids and parents take a summer escape to a familiar Cape Cod retreat. The film is The Way, Way Back, and it is similarly a small movie with big name actors, a story about growing up at many different ages, filled with comedy, drama, and emotion.
“They both call for this kind of quiet story,” said Rash, who co-directed the film with Faxon. “No matter that the names may be big or loud on the page in terms of casting, I think they all respect that sense of honesty these characters have. The family element at the core of both of the movies is what also sort of pushes it towards being a little smaller and more intimate.”
The film follows the shy, 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James, Canadian) as he travels with his mother (Toni Collette), her condescending boyfriend (Steve Carrell), and his daughter, to a cottage for the summer. The parents reconnect with old party friends (Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet) as well as a loquacious divorced neighbor (Alison Janney), her sarcastic young boy, and her blossoming daughter. Feeling like an outcast, Duncan makes an unlikely friend in a carefree water park owner (Sam Rockwell), and so begins a summer of discovery and revelation.
It is a personal film for the writers, in more ways than one. To start, Rash himself lived through the moment that Duncan endures in the opening moments. Sitting quietly in the back of the car, his mother’s boyfriend prods him, asking for Duncan to rate himself on a scale of 1 to 10 in a moment that is tragic and aggravating.
“Obviously that first scene in the film with Liam and Steve in those characters is close to verbatim of what actually happened to me, and that was the point that we really started with,” said Rash.
“Certainly with Owen, the Sam Rockwell character, we were thinking about Bill Murray from Meatballs as our template for that,” added Faxon. “Someone who’s confident; but it comes from within and not necessarily from the world around him. I had an older cousin that was really similar in that sense. He was the person that guided me and brought me to parties and introduced me to his friends and I would tag along.”
“We were most interested in was to explore characters with their flaws and all in a state of flux and going through that moment in their lives when they were in-between chapters,” continued Rash. “We have families who are divorced. We have a husband who comes out to deal with his past. We have Duncan, whose mom is in a relationship that’s really questionable. So all of that was a mix of what they were like was what we were most interested in. We wanted to look at people when they were at their most vulnerable, which I think is when they’re on vacation.”
While the pair relate to the situations and characters in the film – they both also feature in small roles as water park employees – the project that been a labor of love, something that was interrupted, put on hold, and almost disregarded entirely.
“What basically happened eight years ago was that it really was a film that we thought wasn’t going to be a Hollywood movie and it could be made like this,” said Rash, snapping his fingers. “We had to make that hard decision if we wanted to push forward or if we were going to wait…so this script was stuck in this sort of limbo that couldn’t be touched for a certain amount of years. It was five years by then, but when it was free it was all about shaking it loose of all these hands that had been on it or wanted a part of it.”
The pair seems both excited and relieved that the film has been completed, and will be released Friday, June 5th in Canada. They spoke of a celebratory atmosphere at the conclusion of a very fast shoot, one that involved the community and could not have been done without their support. People even brought oysters to the set and shucked them out of their own good will, while many watched a climactic party scene unfold in the film.
“When after years we finally did get the script back in our own hands and we decided to do it ourselves it was so much more gratifying to get to the finish line and then look back and think that this movie could do well or it could fail, but at least we got to do it on our own terms,” added Faxon. Certainly, it’s an emotional thing when something takes this long to become fully realized.”