Sundance Film Festival's 13 must-see movies

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Screen shot 2013-01-17 at 2.13.09 AMStation wagons are a relic of the past, but anyone who grew up with one in their family remembers that backward facing seat in the rear. You know the one. Sitting there was a kind of banishment. It’s not the back seat. It’s the way, way back seat.

That’s where this Sundance coming-of-age story gets its name, tapping one of those minor childhood traumas that accumulate into major adult neuroses. The film follows the summertime experiences of 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James) who spends the season with his mother (Toni Collette) and her irritating new boyfriend (Steve Carell.)

How irritating? At the start of the movie, he thinks he’s doing the kid a favor by telling him that now that he’s getting interested in girls, it would be useful to remember that on a scale of 1 to 10 — with 10 being the most handsome — he is, like … a 3.

What makes this story all the more painful is that it really happened to Jim Rash (best known as Dean Pelton on NBC’s Community) who co-wrote and directed The Way, Way Back with Nat Faxon. The two shared the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar last year for The Descendants, and this is their directorial debut.

“In his mind he thought he was telling me something that was a great lesson, minus the tact it took to do it,” says Rash. “In my adult life, I’ve climbed a bit — I hope. Maybe I’m a 4 or a 5 now. But I survived.”

In the film, young Liam finds a more useful surrogate father-type in Sam Rockwell, playing an older worker at the waterpark where the boy takes a job for the summer, who helps him find his place in a world that can be cruel to No. 3s.

“Jim and I share a love of waterparks and thought it would be a fun and unique setting to create a world around, and with these amazing true stories of Jim’s, they just kind of melded together,” says Faxon. “The waterpark idea was just going to be big and broad, but the more we introduced the family element to the script, it became less about that and more about the relationship between this kid and his mom.”

Channeling those hard times into a comedy helps the psyche, although Rash admits that kind of thing never leaves you. (His Twitter handle, by the way, is @RashIsTVUgly.)

But at least he didn’t become a serial killer.

“Oh, you haven’t met me,” Rash says.

NEXT MOVIE: Keri Russell in ‘Austenland’

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