When screenwriters Nat Faxon and Jim Rash won an Oscar for "The Descendants" last year, many people in Hollywood offered them work.
Instead, the two long-time friends decided to return to a coming-of-age script they had wanted to produce for years. The film, called "The Way, Way Back" opens nationwide this weekend. Not only is the film very funny, it explores why summer vacations can be such life-changing events.
You can learn a lot in how people introduce themselves.
"This is Jim Rash," he says when asked to introduce himself in the recording session.
"This is the more handsome, Nat Faxon," responded his collaborator.
"Well, that's how he's going to tell your voice?" Rash asks.
"I have a very handsome voice," Faxon says.
Clearly, Faxon and Rash are old and good friends. So old, in fact, their movie "The Way Way Back" is named for that special foldout seat in the rear of old-fashioned wood-paneled station wagons where as kids they both spent a lot of time.
"And so unsafe," Faxon laughs. "It makes no sense. I mean 'I'm going to look at this car coming towards me!'"
"And they didn't give it seatbelts, that I remember." Rash said.
The 'way back' is where the movie's hero, the teenaged Duncan, sits as his mother's boyfriend, Trent, drives them and his daughter to his beach house. Realizing everyone but Duncan is asleep, Trent poses a difficult question.
"Duncan, on a scale of one to 10, what do you think you are?" he asks.
"A six," says Duncan.
"I think you are a three," Trent snaps back. "Since I have been dating your mom, I don't see you putting yourself out there, bud. You can try to get that score up at my beach house this summer."
It's a cringe-making scene, and one based in Rash's reality. His stepfather threw him the same question when he was 14 as they were driving on vacation to Michigan.
"That was his way of, tactless way, of telling me to explore, I guess and that's exactly how our movie starts," Rash said. "We did go from that little element, which was autobiographical, but then from there it becomes a whole new world."
And both Rash and Faxon say they don't think the stepfather was necessarily wrong.
"The message wasn't so horrible," Faxon says. "It was the way he said it."
In the film, Duncan is initially lost and horrified among Trent and his mother's beach friends. It seems they are the ones who need to grow up, not just Duncan. It is only when he stumbles into Owen, a friendly ne'er-do-well who runs the unfortunately named Water Whizz park and who recognizes a fellow lost spirit, that things turn around.
"Hey, Evel Knievel," Owen says. "You're probably busy or not interested, but I need someone to be a floater at the park. Do some odd jobs, clean up some vomit. Whaddaya think?"
Rash knows the staying power of coming of age stories.
"We all have a fondness for that time of what I would have told myself, my younger self, if I knew what I know now," Rash said.
And a summer vacation away from the familiarities of home can also raise the stakes, Faxon said.
"It's a little less safe, a little less comfortable, and therefore a little more revealing," he said.
Rash and Faxon had many options after winning the Oscar for "The Descendants," but the two friends decided to return to the first script they had written together. After years of work on the story, Faxon says they were still passionate about it.
"We sort of used the momentum and the currency, I guess, that we received from "The Descendants" to push this forward as directors as well and sort of do it ourselves," he said.
Using their connections as actors, they assembled a superb cast: Toni Collette plays Duncan's mom, Alison Janney plays a wildly inappropriate neighbor, and Steve Carrell plays Trent, the advice-spewing boyfriend who has maturity issues of his own. Maya Rudolph and Sam Rockwell fill out the cast. Rash says being screenwriters, directors and acting in the film worked -- most of the time, at least.
"The hardest days were when we were in the same scene together," Rash said. "Which was not many, and we had really small parts.
"But we definitely had moments when we were acting... and we sort of got in the middle of this scene and it kept rolling and we realized that there was no one out there to yell cut. And eventually we just heard somebody, one of our producers maybe, said, as a question 'Cut?' And then we were like 'Yeah, we got enough of that awkward silence.'"
And now that it's all over, Rash says of the experience, "Well I don't know if we didn't not go crazy."
"We are no longer friends," Faxon says, laughing.
"Yeah, we are no longer friends," Rash agrees. "So this is the perfect amount of distance for us right now. Just across this desk."
That's not true. They already have two more projects in the pipeline, and expect to be very busy working together.