Away We Go

Away We Go

2009, R, 98 min. 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.

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.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Sam Mendes Films
Empire of Light
The bulb glows dim in Sam Mendes' tribute to picture palaces

Marjorie Baumgarten, Dec. 9, 2022

World War I drama shows heroism in saving, not taking, lives

Richard Whittaker, Jan. 10, 2020

More by Marjorie Baumgarten
SXSW Film Review: The Greatest Hits
SXSW Film Review: The Greatest Hits
Love means never having to flip to the B side

March 16, 2024

SXSW Film Review: The Uninvited
SXSW Film Review: The Uninvited
A Hollywood garden party unearths certain truths

March 12, 2024


Away We Go, Sam Mendes, 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

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle