Nat Faxon and Jim Rash on the Story Behind The Way, Way Back


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On a trip to Lake Michigan one summer, Jim Rash’s stepfather asked him to rate himself on a scale of one to ten — the then-fourteen-year-old Rash thought he was a six, and his not-so-helpful stepdad informed him that he was a three. This real-life hurtful moment provides the basis for Rash’s latest film, The Way, Way Back — co-written and co-directed with the Oscar winner’s creative partner, Nat Faxon. (The two last paired on The Descendants).

“The very first scene in the movie is true, that horrible conversation, verbatim,” Rash told IFC. “It’s not like it led to this horrible summer vacation, nor did it lead to the amazing one depicted in this film, but it’s about the connections we have with people, whether it’s for a split second, for a summer, or for the period that they’re married to your mother, and how they give you something, even if you didn’t realize it at the time.”

The fourteen-year-old in the film, Duncan (played by Liam James from The Killing) is offended by the ranking, which in the film is given by Trent (Steve Carell), his mom’s boyfriend, in order to try to urge the teenager to get out and participate in life more often, instead of just hanging around the house, i.e. his beach house where he wants some alone time with the mother (Toni Collette) that summer. At a later point, Duncan finds a bicycle and makes his way to the other end of town, where he discovers a water park called Water Wizz, and a quirky water park manager named Owen (Sam Rockwell) who offers him a job, takes him under his wing, and gets him to, yes, participate in life.

“It’s the same message, but in a more nurturing way,” Rash said. “However you feel about what Trent said, Duncan took it to heart and acted on it, perhaps in rebellion, but he still did it. Sometimes someone we don’t look back fondly on might have given us some words of wisdom we didn’t expect. Because weirdly, what Duncan does is what both Trent and Owen were alluding to, regardless of the tact that wasn’t there when Trent said it.”

It took Rash and Faxon eight years to get the film off the ground — Shawn Levy (Real Steel) was even proposed as a director at one point before the pair managed to snag that job for themselves. “You have to have patience,” Rash said. “Little Miss Sunshine took four years. We had the opportunity to make it fast the wrong way, but we went for the long route.”

Along the way, Rash and Faxon were offered the screenwriting gig for The Descendants, based off the unproduced script they wrote for this one. (Alexander Payne’s company Ad Hominem had read it, and brought them aboard to adapt its tonally similar dysfunctional family story). Still, they kept hoping to get The Way, Way Back started. Rash and Faxon cast Allison Janney as a booze-cruise neighbor first, and then started looking for the water park manager who would provide the heart of the story. Jake Gyllenhaal was considered before they found Sam Rockwell. “We met with Jake, but he didn’t work out,” Rash said. “But it was great to meet him and talk about it.” Rockwell, however, got the inspiration of Bill Murray in Meatballs for his character right off the bat in the first phone meeting, which helped seal the deal.

And then once The Way, Way Back got its own little dose of Little Miss Sunshine casting — courtesy of Carell and Collette, now playing lovers instead of siblings, it got the needed traction as far as financing was concerned. “With Trent, we wanted to go against type,” Rash said. “We wanted to be a real, true, tragic male character, not a villain. And we tried to find great and perfect people.” To make it easier for Carell to accept the gig, Rash and Faxon even moved production to be near his summer home.

Although the film starts with Rash’s “sad memory,” Faxon said he brought “the happy ones” to the table. “I was fortunate enough to spend most of my summers on Nantucket Island,” he said, “and there was a whole crew and community of people I saw three months a year. You’d change in the other nine months, but you’d go back to that special summer place, and it would all be the same somehow.” Creating a sense of community, as Duncan learns to do at his odd job at the Water Wizz park, is something Faxon did while working odd summer jobs in Nantucket. One of his jobs involved collating newspapers at the local rag, The Inquirer and Mirror, in the basement with five elderly women. “No TV, no music, just gossiping!” he laughed. (It also helped him learn to become a storyteller, he said: “Lots to draw from.”)

Even though Rash has long since learned to “get out there,” and has channeled his life lesson into this summer comedy, Faxon said that his creative partner still tends to retreat into his shell. “Every night in L.A., I’m telling Jim he needs to get out and come to a party,” Faxon laughed.

“It’s hard for me!” Rash protested. “It’s like a boy in the bubble. If I had a bubble, I’d be better off.”

“I’m your bubble, Jim,” Faxon offered.

“He’s my bubble,” Rash agreed.

The Way, Way Back is in theaters now.

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Documentary Now! Robert Evans Mansion

The Reel Deal

Everything You Need To Know About “Mr. Runner Up” Inspiration Robert Evans

Watch the two-part finale of Documentary Now! this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

In its upcoming two-part finale, Documentary Now! spoofs the crown jewel of docs: The Kid Stays In The Picture. It’s the autobiographical documentary about Robert Evans, the unlikely Hollywood mogul whose mix of self-aggrandizing bravado, classic good looks and extremely circumstantial good luck took him from being a salesman to an actor to the head of Paramount Pictures.

If you’ve never seen the film, it’s totally worth it. Rotten Tomatoes agrees, with a staggeringly-high approval rating. Watch it before, or watch it after — doesn’t matter. You’ll appreciate it whenever.

In the meantime, here’s a bit of background that will come in handy…

Robert Loves Robert

Robert Evans desk

USA Films/Everett Collection

Robert Evans is the ultimate Robert Evans fan. The movie was narrated by Robert Evans and based on his memoir of the same name. It is totally unbiased.

He’s Kind Of A Big Deal

Robert Evans, Chinatown
Paramount Pictures

Evans produced some of Hollywood’s true classics: Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, The Godfather, Love Story…the list goes on. Totally legit and amazing movies.

He’s Also Kind Of A Joke

Wag The Dog
New Line Cinema

Evans has been parodied in TV shows and movies like Entourage and Wag The Dog. He is the quintessential “producer” you already have in your head.

So Wrong He’s Right

Robert Evans Slap
20th Century Film Corp

Robert Evans is a notorious narcissist whose love of self is so blind and sincere that it’s actually adorable.

There’s Something Missing

via Giphy

Entire sections of Robert Evans’ life are left out of the documentary. Maybe it’s because of timing. Maybe it’s because real life isn’t a tidy narrative. Who knows.

He Blew It

Spider coke

Evans had a pretty spectacular fall from grace. He was convicted of cocaine trafficking in the early 80’s, and was connected to a contract killing during the production of The Cotton Club. Oops.

Losing Is For Losers

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

In the Robert Evans mythology, all tragedies are just triumphs in disguise, and every story has a happy ending…for Robert Evans.

Bill Hader Jerry Wallach

With these simple facts in hand you are now prepared to thoroughly enjoy the two-part finale of Documentary Now! starting this Wednesday at 10/9c on IFC.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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