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Acclaimed screenwriter William Goldman once famously said of Hollywood and working in the film industry, "Nobody knows anything." That's true, I suppose, and largely true of the rest of life as well.
Just don't tell that to Jim Rash and Nat Faxon. They seem to know a whole lot about the biz.
Rash and Faxon, aside from sounding like a show on USA about two rival marketing executives who are actually loyal best friends outside of work, seem to have gotten the hang of this whole Hollywood thing. In addition to being working actors with loyal fan bases spread throughout all genres, the two messed around and scored a couple of Oscars for their first screenplay together, 2011's "The Descendants." Not bad.
Now, with Friday's debut of "The Way, Way Back," both written and directed by the duo, it might be time for you to start knowing a few things about ol' Natty and Jimbo before they start taking up permanent residence at the Academy Awards.
Despite Their Comedy Background, They Write With Gravitas
Rash and Faxon first met while taking classes at the Groundlings Theatre in Los Angeles, the primary breeding ground for "Saturday Night Live" cast members in the late '90s like Will Ferrell, Jimmy Fallon and Maya Rudolph. The Groundlings will teach you a lot, but it's safe to say they've never offered any seminars called "Writing Scenes Featuring 8 Year-Old Girls Talking to Their Dead Mothers in Hospital Beds 101," and if they did it would be weird and oddly specific. "The Descendants" was among the saddest movies ever made, but it wasn't sad for the sake of being sad, like some sort of Nicholas Sparks abomination; it full-on attacked a real-life, serious-but-everyday subject with an unambiguity that could only call for an overall melancholy. Watch this scene and then try to laugh for the next ten minutes:
Having said that...
Due To Their Comedy Background, They Could Write a Full-Fledged Comedy Tomorrow, If They Wanted
Their first two screenplays have been either completely serious ("The Descendants") or semi-serious ("The Way, Way Back"), but as aforementioned, Rash and Faxon come from a background that involves performing on stage with the best comedy actors alive. If they wanted to write something along the lines of a "Harold and Kumar" movie, they could do it, and it would probably be great. So while you shouldn't hold your breath, exactly, it's certainly conceivable that they could become exhausted with drama and the pressure that comes with it and just make a ridiculous gag-infested comedy for their next project. And why do we know that they understand what it takes to make a comedy?
They Can Act
Specifically, they can comedy act, and they can comedy act well. Rash has been an indispensable regular on NBC's fan-obsessed "Community" for four years, and Faxon was the male lead on the canceled-too-soon-but-with-that-title-we-get-it Fox comedy "Ben and Kate." Good comedy acting might look easy, but there's something to be said for understanding the timing and the nuances of a scene or line or an expression. Rash and Faxon can both do that in their sleep. (Not literally, we don't think, but who knows?) The combination of their obvious screenwriting talents and their obvious comedy acting talents can and will open all sorts of doors for them. Here's Rash on "Community":
They Don't Seem To Take Breaks
Reading this New York Times interview with Rash and Faxon from last August would make a coal miner feel like a stoner addicted to Loaded Baked Potato-flavored Pringles. Each of the two having significant parts on network television shows, they were forced to film all of "The Way, Way Back" in 25 days, then hastily edit a director's cut before production began on their respective places of television employment. The point: This is not a duo that lacks a work ethic. A lot of writers like calling themselves "writers" even though they don't really write. Rash and Faxon write and act and direct at the apparent sacrifice of their free time.
Speaking of directing ...
They No Longer Need to Wait For a Director To Attach Him/Herself To One of Their Movies
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In that same Times article, the duo recaps their struggle with getting "The Way, Way Back" made. Long story short, it took a while. Like, a long while. Then "The Descendants" was made pretty much because of director/co-writer Alexander Payne's influence, it won an Oscar and boom, respect. Armed with new-found street cred, the duo wasn't about to let their baby (the movie, not their actual child) fall into someone else's hands, and they decided to direct it themselves. Seems like it may have been the right move: The film currently rocks an 88% on Rotten Tomatoes, as of this writing. Anything they write in the future, they can also direct, if they want. Boom.
Talented People Want to Work With Them
Must be nice to write your first screenplay, loudly pray that it ever sees the light of day and finally hear, "Hey, guys — George Clooney read your script and is interested. Think he'd be good for the lead?" A couple of Oscars later and the cast of "The Way, Way Back" all of a sudden becomes a who's who of A-list character actors, and rightfully so. God, imagine if Clooney's Matt King was played by Matthew Modine, as was originally rumored? Talk about a different movie!
Despite Being An Odd Couple of Sorts, They Work Well Together
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A sad fact of life: People get sick of each other, especially when they spend an inordinate amount of time together. Look at your parents, for example. Yes, yours. Faxon, by all accounts, is a kind of a free-wheeling loose cannon, whereas Rash is an introverted business-first straight shooter. But they like each other, and they get stuff done together. And as Sean Maguire once said, Nat's not perfect, sport, and let me save you the suspense, neither is Jim. But the real question is whether or not they're perfect for each other. A lot can change over the course of a career, but it sure seems like these two are just beginning. And that's another thing ...
They're Only Going to Get Better
These guys are still pretty new! Unless they pull a straight M. Night Shyamalan and for some reason just lose all talent forever after two movies, they're only going to get better — or at least, more interesting — as they keep making various passion projects. There's something about specific writer/directors that appeal to a certain part of our psyches. Tarantino. Wes Anderson and his dad, Paul Thomas Anderson. Tyler Perry. Who's to say these two can't become the P.T. Anderson of quirky serio-comedies? They have the talent and the work ethic. They just need the right bounces. It's a game of inches, guys. Ready, BREAK.
You Already Should
How do you not know Jim Rash and Nat Faxon already? They won an Oscar! For a George Clooney movie! Where have you been? Jeez. Time to read up, guys.