The coming-of-age story is a summer-movie staple — as writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who struck Oscar gold with The Descendants in 2011, can attest.
Their latest film, The Way, Way Back, is another entry in the canon; it's the tale of an awkward teenager, Duncan, who's floundering through a seaside vacation when he's taken under the wing of Owen, the sweetly demented manager of a summer water park. Comedy ensues — and in passing, Duncan learns some important lessons about adulthood.
Some audiences will notice that the film's characters aren't situated in any particular time period — and that was no creative oversight. Faxon tells NPR's Renee Montagne that the first draft of the film was actually set in the '80s, but the realization soon set in that a period piece would require a larger budget, what with the vintage cars and locations.
"More important ... and I think it was a great thought, is to make it timeless, to sort of blur the lines a little bit," Faxon says.
Nat Faxon and Jim Rash joined Morning Edition to talk about nostalgia in summertime movies, the inspiration behind the character Owen and some surprisingly autobiographical details that were woven into the story.
Rash on the inevitability of nostalgia in summertime films
"I think also summer has that type of feel. It feels like you're less connected to technology, a lot of times, when you're on a summer vacation. Old beach houses sometimes don't have TVs, or you don't get cellphone reception. And so that nostalgia theme and the timelessness really made its way into every discussion we had in terms of how we wanted to shoot the movie and see the movie."
On how a famous camp-counselor character inspired Owen
Faxon: "Owen was loosely modeled after one of our cinematic heroes: Bill Murray [in] Meatballs. That was the template in writing the character. [T]his sort of freewheeling charismatic guy whose confidence comes from his personality. ... [He] exuded that confidence and that mentorship, and I think that was — those were qualities that we certainly saw in Owen.
Rash: "You know, he was a quintessential extrovert, which is what Owen is — you know, someone who feeds off the energy of his audience. And that was sort of important to have as what Owen was — what that water park does for him for three months out of the year."
Rash on the Steve Carell-Liam James interrogation dialogue
"[The 'How would you rate yourself?'] scene is autobiographical, in the sense that that actual conversation, pretty verbatim, happened to me when I was 14. ... And so we sort of just ripped that from my pain headlines ... and plugged it into the movie, because we thought it was a great way to start this coming-of-age story.
"And, you know, obviously, the character wasn't exactly my stepfather. ... ... But, honestly, something sort of sneaks its way into his brain because he eventually leaves the beach house and discovers this eclectic water park and has this rite of passage in this summer of his life."