By Gail McCarthy
---- — The film “The Way Way Back” opens with a scene in which a man driving a station wagon asks a child sitting in the rear-facing “way, way back” seat what number he would rate himself, 1 to 10. When the apprehensive boy responds “a six,” the man quips back that the boy was in fact “a three.”
And so begins this coming-of-age film in which this dialogue was based on a true story of Jim Rash, who wrote and directed the movie with Manchester native Nat Faxon. The screenwriting team took home an Oscar at the 2012 Academy Awards for “The Descendants.”
“I was in the car with my mother’s second husband and he made the same speech about how I wasn’t getting out there and taking advantage of what life has to offer,” reiterated Rash during a recent interview at the Liberty Hotel in Boston. Both he and Faxon were as easy-going and affable on their press tour as they would be among their fellow “Groundlings.”
The pair first met in 1999 at the legendary Groundlings Theater, a Los Angeles institution that has served as an incubator for comic talent such as Maya Rudolph, Melissa McCarthy, Phil Hartman, Kristin Wiig, Will Ferrell, Lisa Kudrow and many others.
The comic talent of Faxon and Rash pours into the script of this story of self discovery, which stars Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph, Liam James, Amanda Peet, and Rob Corddry.
Each actor creates a strong character in their own right. Just seeing the slender 6-foot Janney, an award-winning actress, become a margarita-toting pushy neighbor is funny enough; Janney is remembered by many for her commanding role as White House staffer C.J. Cregg in the hit TV show “West Wing.”
But the antics just keep rolling in like the waves on the nearby beach at the summer retreat.
The storyline follows the journey over a summer surfside vacation of 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James of AMC’s “The Killing”) and his divorced mother Pam (Toni Collette), who is trying to balance the needs of her son and her domineering boyfriend Trent.
Carell plays a most unlikable character as the boyfriend of Liam’s mother. In fact, the film should carry a disclaimer and warning to fathers in the audience that states “Do not behave at home as these fathers do on screen.”
But the comedy really heats up when Duncan finds an unexpected mentor and friend in gregarious Owen (Sam Rockwell), who manages the Water Wizz water park. Rockwell, whose free-wheeling character provides the primary nurturing male figure in the film, takes the new kid under his wing. Liam lands the job at the water park, without his mother’s knowledge, to help endure the painful forced family vacation.
Through Owen, Duncan begins to find his place in the world during an unforgettable summer.
Both screenwriters are also are known for their acting. Rash appears as Dean Pelton on the NBC sitcom “Community,” and Faxon played Ben on the recent Fox TV series “Ben and Kate.” They both had on-screen roles in “The Way Way Back” too.