By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Oscar-winning writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash first explored a father's journey with George Clooney in their 2011 hit "The Descendants," and now they turn their focus on a teenager's coming-of-age story with an all-star cast in their latest film.
Faxon and Rash explore dysfunctional family dynamics in independent comedy "The Way, Way Back," out in U.S. theaters on Friday, drawing on their own childhood experiences to follow the journey of a teenage boy on his summer vacation.
The film, which has garnered mainly positive reviews and earned a score of 65 out of 100 on review aggregator Metacritic.com, stars Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Sam Rockwell, Allison Janney and Maya Rudolph, and centers on 14-year-old Duncan, played by newcomer Liam James.
Shy and socially awkward, Duncan must spend a summer with his mother (Collette) and her new boyfriend (Carell), and finds a mentor in quirky, carefree Owen (Rockwell), the owner of a local water park.
"I think there's a fear of disconnect sometimes, communication is a huge issue for all of us from adults to kids, as far as our face-to-face time and our ability to interact with each other without isolating itself to a phone. I think that has to be something that's very challenging," Rash told Reuters.
SPOTLIGHT ON INDEPENDENT COMEDY
James, now 16, said he connected to Duncan's coming-of-age story and felt audiences would be drawn to his character's journey to find his place in the world.
"(Faxon and Rash) made the boy that lots of people have experienced when they're younger ... everybody has to go through this awkward stage," James said.
Carell, who is well-known for playing socially awkward characters such as the lead in "The 40 Year Old Virgin" and bumbling manager Michael Scott in mockumentary TV series "The Office," changes track to play a stern, unlikeable step dad.
"I see him as a guy who's trying the best he can with the tools that he has at his disposal, but he doesn't come off as the greatest guy," the actor said.
"The Way, Way Back," released by Fox Searchlight Pictures, the independent film arm of News Corp's 20th Century Fox studios, was produced on a reported budget of $4.6 million according to movie database IMDB.com.
The film follows up from "The Descendants," Faxon and Rash's touching tragicomedy set in Hawaii, where a middle-aged man must keep his family together after his wife is left in a coma from an accident.
The film earned Clooney an Oscar nomination for best actor and spotlighted the growing attention on independent comedies from the awards circuit.
This year, quirky comedy "Silver Linings Playbook" became the darling of film festivals and Hollywood's awards, culminating in Jennifer Lawrence's Best Actress Oscar win.
"I think it's important that people make (independent comedies) because I think ideally they are relatable and they are honest and they delve into characters that are flawed and making bad choices and those are the things we react to," Faxon said.
(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)