Walter Mencken 11 a.m., Nov. 27
Interview with The Way, Way Back co-writers and co-directors Jim Rash and Nat Faxon
The Way, Way Back tells the story of Duncan (Liam James), a pouty-slouchy teenage boy who heads off for a month's vacation at the beach house of his mom Pam's (Toni Collette) new boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell). It doesn't go well, and he winds up seeking refuge at the town's water park, where he is taken under the wing of a longtime employee Owen (Sam Rockwell). Writer-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash also play employees: the blissful Roddy and the miserable Lewis, respectively.
Matthew Lickona: First off, tell me about the car that Trent is driving in the opening scene.
Nat Faxon: That was a 1970 Buick Estate Wagon. Our propmaster found it in Western Massachusetts. Pristine.
Jim Rash: The owner had two of them, a 1970 and a 1971. It was our launching-off point for the movie.
NF: They're gorgeous cars, and obviously, they had the quintessential way, way back seat that was vital to our movie. It was certainly a character, and a big part of Steve Carell's character.
ML: Do you have memories of riding in the way, way back?
JR: Yeah, we both rode back there as kids. That first scene, that conversation between Trent and Duncan about where Duncan would rate himself on a scale of one to ten? That was sort of a verbatim scene from my own life, when I was 14 and riding in a station wagon with my stepfather.
ML: Typically, when a guy hits midlife and thinks about starting over, he'll buy a Corvette. But Trent restores this old station wagon to cherry condition.
JR: I think he has a connection that he's holding onto with his dad. We were trying to establish that Trent is probably one of those people who, if you asked him when he was young, would say he didn't care for the way his dad treated him. But subsequently, he's probably used a lot of his dad's parental cues with his own daughter. That attachment to dad and the way things were is very important to his character.
ML: One of the things that struck me about that conversation with Duncan was that, even though Trent is being an ass about it, he really wants something good for Duncan. He's trying to encourage him to get out there.
JR: Yes. When my stepfather said it, I understood the context of it. I understood the message, even though there wasn't much tact. He was telling me to be confident, to make something of myself.
ML: But as we see, Trent isn't really ready for Duncan to follow his advice.
JR: It's the vicious cycle he's stuck in. He proclaims that he wants a family, that he knows he has to be better than he is, but he has no ability to evolve.
ML: Still, I admired the film's refusal to make Trent an asshole. He really tries, despite the cheap hypocrisy he sometimes shows.
JR: He wanted to have a summer. He spends all year working, and he's thinking, "This is my month to drink and party, and I'm sort of done being a dad."
ML [to JR]: You play Lewis, who works at the town water park and seems generally miserable. I can understand a lot of the characters in light what they're supposed to illuminate for Duncan, but Lewis was tough for me.
JR: Lewis is really a counterbalance to Owen, showing that the water park isn't some kind of Oz. It's not all glamorous to every single person. Though yes, there's probably something in his heart that loves the place, he won't admit it. He provided a nice energy shift within the content of the ensemble.
ML [to NF]: Whereas your character, Roddy, seems completely at home in the park in a way that even Owen isn't. I mean, Owen knows it isn't exactly a dream career...
NF: Very much so. I think Roddy probably goes through the day smiling and enjoying life, and would have no issue with spending the next thirty years there, doing the exact same thing. There's a little bit of Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and Confused in him: he gets older, but everybody else stays the same age. I think part of him would like to be Owen, but I think he's content and doesn't necessarily have the depth to care about anything else.
ML: What does Susanna see in Duncan?
JR: Susanna, like Duncan, has a mother who is in a state of unrest for herself. So she's grown up faster than she probably intended to. She helps to give Duncan some context for how adults are the way they are. I don't think it's a romantic thing. But like Owen, she can say to Duncan, "This is what it's like here. It'll get better."
ML: Tell me about your collaborative style.
NF: We met over 15 years ago, coming up through the LA sketch and improv company The Groundlings. Over time, you establish connections with other people, and I think we were drawn to the same type of humor. We enjoyed writing together; we had similar sensibilities. We really like to get specific about characters, to find out what their flaws are. We usually enjoy the moments where they make bad choices, or say things they could regret. We connect to material that toes the line between being tragic and maybe being hysterical. And also the broader, sort of silly stuff that just makes us laugh.
JR: The balance is fun, playing things for a heightened level but in a grounded place - comedy and drama exist within our lives from minute to minute. That makes it interesting.
NF: And we can use it to provide a release after something that's a little bit heavy. You can enjoy both, without becoming too mired in either one.
ML: I certainly saw that in Betty (Allison Janney). When she showed up, I thought, "This humor is as broad as a barn door. Are we going to have this through the whole film?" But she pulled quite a shift as the film started getting into the interpersonal dynamics of the beach community. Changing subjects: why did you decide to make this particular story into a movie?
JR: It was the first screenplay we ever wrote.
ML: So you wrote this before you did the screenplay for The Descendants?
JR: Yes. It got us in the door for that one. And after that had its sort of success [the pair won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay], it was able to provide the momentum where we could say, "We would love to at least engage in this one again, do it the way we've always envisioned doing it." We both grew up on the east coast, and had that sort of destination summer vacation. Year after year in the same place that never seemed to change, but all this stuff changes between visits. The things that have always resonated with us are things that we connect with personally or understand. When there is something we can't let go of, that you can't stop thinking about, that's usually the path we follow.
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