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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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Inauguration Alternative

Bill Murray On Repeat

It's a movie "Murray-thon" all-day Friday on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs courtesy of GIPHY

Democrats, Republicans and Millennials agree: 2017 is shaping up to be a spectacle — a spectacle that really kicks into high gear this Friday with the presidential inauguration. Not only will the new POTUS swear in, but all the Country’s highest offices will be filled. It’s a daunting prospect, and to feel a little anxious about it is only normal. But if your anxiety is snowballing into panic, we have a solution:
Bill Murray.

He’s the human embodiment of a mental “Happy Place”, and there’s really no problem he can’t solve. So, with that in mind, how about we all set aside reality for a moment and let Bill take the pain away by imagining a top-shelf White House cabinet filled exclusively by his signature characters. Here are a few hypothetical appointments for your consideration…

Secretary of Defense:
Bill Murray from Stripes

His incompetence is balanced by charm, and dumb luck is inexplicably on his side. America could do worse.

Secretary of State:
Bill Murray from Lost In Translation

A seasoned globetrotter steeped in regional traditions who has the respect of the whole wide world. And he kills Costello in karaoke, which is very important.

Press Secretary:
Bill Murray from Ghostbusters

“Cats and dogs, living together. Mass hysteria.” Dude knows how to brief a room.

Secretary of Health and Human Services:
Bill Murray from What About Bob.

A doctor-approved people person who knows that progress is measured in baby steps.

Secretary of Energy:
Bill Murray from Groundhog Day

Let’s be honest, this world is going to need a lot of do-overs.

Feeling better? Hold on to that bliss. And enjoy a healthy alternative to the inauguration brouhaha with multiple Murrays all Friday long in an IFC movie marathon including Kingpin, Zombieland, Ghostbusters, and Ghostbusters II.

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Home Run

Hank Azaria Gets Thrown A Curve Ball

Brockmire Premieres April 5 at 10P

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

Unless you’ve somehow missed every episode of the Simpsons since 1989, then surely you know that Hank Azaria is one of the most important character actors of our time. He’s so prolific and his voice is so dynamic that he’s responsible for more iconic personalities than most folks realize. Basically, he’s the great and powerful Oz — except that when you pull back the curtain the truth is actually more impressive. And now Hank is coming to IFC to bring yet another character to the TV pop culture hive mind in the new series Brockmire. Check out the trailer below.

Based on the following Funny or Die short and co-starring Amanda Peet, Brockmire follows the story of imploded major league sportscaster Jim Brockmire as he tries to resurrect his career by calling plays for a floundering minor league team in a podunk town.

The series is written by Joel Church-Cooper (Undateable) and produced by Funny or Die’s Mike Farah and Joe Farrell, meaning that there’s funny in front of the camera, funny behind the camera–funny all around. Sounds like a ball to us.

Brockmire premieres April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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Car Notes

Portlandia On People Who Can’t Park

Portlandia returns tonight at 10P on IFC.

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If flagrant bad parking takes nerve, then retaliatory note writing takes neuroses. Watch Fred and Carrie take passive aggression to next level in Car Notes, the new Portlandia web series presented by Subaru. The first episode is yours right here and now, and you can see every installment of Car Notes anytime online, on the IFC app and on demand.

Portlandia returns tonight at 10P on IFC.

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