The Way, Way Back takes its name from the rear-facing seat found in the tail end of most station wagons — a relic of a bygone age, but still a potent symbol of adolescent isolation. It’s hard enough to know where you’re going during your awkward teenage years, and it’s tougher still when the grown-ups in your life point you in the wrong direction.
The PG-13-rated coming-of-age comedy (now in limited release) follows a wallflower kid (The Killing’s Liam James) who blossoms when he takes a job at an amusement park called Water Wizz during a summer vacation with his mom (Toni Collette) and her bully of a boyfriend (Steve Carell). Sam Rockwell plays the eccentric water-park manager who mentors the troubled teen.
Writers, directors, and costars Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (who appear in the film as oddball Water Wizz workers) sat down with EW to detail the sometimes treacherous trip to the big screen.
The roots of the movie can be traced back to when Rash (NBC’s Community) was just 14 years old, riding in the backseat of the family station wagon during a trip to Michigan while his stepfather gave him the world’s worst pep talk. ”He had this conversation with me where he asked me what I thought I was on a scale from one to 10,” Rash says. ”I said, you know, ‘Six?’ And he said, ‘Three.’ He thought he was going to wake me up: ‘Be confident. What’s your problem?’ He was asking an introverted kid to be extroverted.” It took nearly three decades, but now Rash can laugh about it. The hope is that other people will too: Carell’s character delivers the same devastating assessment in the movie’s opening scene.
Like Minds Cross Paths
Both Rash and Faxon moved to Los Angeles to find work as actors after college and became friends in 2000 while members of the Groundlings comedy troupe. That’s when Faxon (Fox’s short-lived Ben and Kate) first heard the ”Three” story. ”I remember being floored by it and gasping much the way people who see the movie do — not really knowing whether to laugh or to cry for this kid,” Faxon says. After a few years at the Groundlings, they wrote a sitcom pilot called Adopted, hoping they could play the leads themselves.