Away We Go
Directed by Sam Mendes. Starring John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Carmen Ejogo, Jeff Daniels, Catherine O’Hara, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Allison Janney, Chris Messina, Melanie Lynskey, Paul Schneider, Jim Gaffigan, Josh Hamilton. (2009, R, 98 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., June 19, 2009
Mendes’ strange journey through the American psyche (American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Jarhead, Revolutionary Road) takes the British-born filmmaker down yet another blind alley in his latest film, Away We Go. However, the film finds Mendes working in a looser, more relaxed mode, and focusing on two central characters who are not as circumscribed by their environment as characters have been in his films past. Away We Go, in fact, is a road-trip movie, highlighting the travels undertaken by expectant parents Burt (Krasinski) and Verona (Rudolph) as they search for a place to settle down and raise their child. The movie is written by novelists and real-life couple Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, which may be the reason why the interaction between the fictional couple comes across as the movie’s strongest and most likable aspect. Though bearded and bespectacled, Krasinski doesn’t stray too far from his character Jim on The Office, soulful and understanding if a bit unaspiring and unpurposed. Former Saturday Night Live comedienne Rudolph is a dramatic revelation as six-months-pregnant Verona, a stolid yet enigmatic presence who has no desire to get married but fretfully suspects that she and Burt are “fuckups.” Beginning with the film’s opening sex scene, this couple’s relationship feels real and lived in. Their naturalism, however, clashes with the anxieties and obsessions of everyone they visit along the way. The pair first decides to leave Colorado when Burt’s self-absorbed parents (Daniels and O’Hara), who also live there, choose to move to Belgium before their grandchild is to be born. An old work companion in Phoenix (Janney) has turned into a blowsy mess and inattentive mother; Verona’s sister in Tucson, Ariz., (Ejogo) is supportive but has no roots tying her to that city; an old friend in Madison, Wis., (Gyllenhaal) has become an earth mother to a ridiculous extreme; school chums in Montreal (Messina and Lynskey) have adopted a rainbow brood of kids (but it’s a panacea for the children they can’t have on their own); and Burt’s brother in Florida (Schneider) has just been abandoned by his wife. Compared with all these nutty, deluded, and broken characters, Burt and Verona inevitably wind up seeming superior and special, which puts a somewhat unpleasant spin on Away We Go. This is where the movie veers into Mendes territory, singling out American figures who feel they are better than their surroundings, whether surrounded by suburbia, war, or mob life. The push toward singularity also meshes with Eggers’ solipsistic narrative tendencies. What annoys me most about Away We Go is the conclusion: Burt and Verona’s final decision of where to live. It’s a lovely solution, but it’s almost so obvious and pat that it makes the rest of the couple’s brooding appear self-indulgent and superfluous. Only people who have no real problems can afford to devote so much time to the luxury of finding the perfect place to feather their nest and raise their chicks. See it for the performances – they are delights, from the leads on down to the characters in the episodic vignettes. But the film’s vision of Gen-Y nesting is liable to leave you up a tree.