With an Academy Award under their belt for The Descendants screenplay (shared with Alexander Payne), filmmakers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash make their directorial debut with The Way, Way Back. The coming-of-age story, in which the co-directors and co-writers also co-star, has been nearly a decade in the making and features a star-studded cast that should attract a wide range of moviegoers.
“It just kept getting better and better, starting with the script, and then when I saw all the people that were coming on board — why wouldn’t you [sign on]?” says Steve Carell, who plays against type as a self-absorbed jerk dating Liam James’ (The Killing) mom, played by Toni Collette.
Sam Rockwell and Maya Rudolph also star as employees at a local waterpark (opposite Rash and Faxon) where James finds work and an escape from Carell’s beach house, where he has been forced to spend the summer. Allison Janney provides refreshing comedic relief as Carell’s fun-loving, borderline alcoholic neighbor, and The Carrie Diaries’ AnnaSophia Robb co-stars as Janney’s teenage daughter.
Zoe Levin, Amanda Peete and Rob Corddry round out the cast as Carell’s daughter and a wealthy couple with a nearby beach home, respectively.
The filmmakers say that it was this script, in fact, that landed them the job on George Clooney’s Descendants. And while their subsequent Oscar didn’t give The Way, Way Back an immediate green light, Faxon says, it did provide a “foot in the door.”
“I think [the Oscar] provided us some momentum to come back to it,” Faxon tells The Hollywood Reporter of the duo’s current film. “I don’t think it helped necessarily greenlight the movie in any way, but it certainly allowed us to get our foot in the door and allow people to read it and give us a little [of their] time.”
With casting, the duo have described their approach as “guerilla style.” The pair first approached Janney, a personal friend of Rash’s who readily signed on, but felt a momentum shift after convincing Rockwell, a fast-talking force to be reckoned with, to sign on as James’ sarcastic mentor.
“It almost felt like a reward, ‘cause we had gone through eight years of trying to get this thing made,” says Rash, who refers to Rockwell’s verbal agreement as “a nice gift.”
Nevertheless, Rockwell’s leap of faith paid off. The actor received raves for his portrayal of a wise-cracking (and deceptively wise) lazybones waterpark manager in THR’s review of the film, with critic John DeFore calling it his “most winning performance in a career full of charm.”
For Rudolph, whose relationship with Rash and Faxon dates back to their days in the comedy troupe The Groundlings, watching her pals put on their directors’ caps felt like a “natural” progression.
“I knew this was going to be a wonderful way to see them work,” she tells THR. “Just a very natural evolution of what they’re doing — of the writing they’ve been doing all these years and being actors and being in the film as actors, as well as directors, it all makes sense.
“They didn’t change hats… They didn’t become these guys,” she adds with a scowl, wagging her finger in the air.
The laid-back nature of the cast and crew shines through in the film, described in THR’s review as a “crowd-pleaser [that] would make for a great summer release.”
After making its debut at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, Way Back will hit theaters July 5 via Fox Searchlight.
Email: Sophie.Schillaci@THR.com; Twitter: @SophieSchillaci