AWAY WE GO (2009)
Starring John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Jeff Daniels, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Allison Janney, Catherine O’Hara, Jim Gaffigan, Carmen Ejogo, Samantha Pryor, Conor Carroll, Josh Hamilton, Chris Messina, Melanie Lynskey, Colton Parsons and Katherine Vaskevich.
Screenplay by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida.
Directed by Sam Mendes.
Distributed by Focus Features. 97 minutes. Rated R.
Usually when you see a movie about a couple which is having problems, the conflicts are with each other. In the quirky new indie comedy/drama Away We Go, the two main characters are mostly in perfect synch with each other – it’s just the rest of the world that they just can’t quite understand.
On a superficial level the movie seems somewhat like the recent breakout art house hit Juno. It is a small and intimate film about a pregnant woman trying to find a perfect home for her unborn child. It juggles humor and sadness. It has a similarly folksy poster and soundtrack. It even has a supporting turn by Allison Janney.
However, in most other ways the two films are very different.
Rather than a teen who needs to find her place in the world, Away We Go takes a look at two people in their mid-thirties who have never quite settled down, expecting a child and still not quite sure how to be adults.
The couple is Burt (John Krasinski of The Office) and Verona (former Saturday Night Live regular Maya Rudolph). They have been together since college, living in cheesy apartments and working dead end jobs. Though they are not married (interestingly, it is Verona who insists on staying single) they are very much in love and devoted to each other.
They move to Colorado to be near his parents (Jeff Daniels and Catherine O’Hara) when the baby is born, but when the folks decide to take that opportunity to move to Europe, Burt and Verona are suddenly free to be anywhere and do anything.
Therefore they decide to do a tour of the US (and Canada), visiting friends and relatives in several cities to find what place feels right for them to set down roots.
This gives the film an interesting format – Burt and Verona go from town to town, meet up with people and move on to the next group. The connections wildly vary in tone – from broadly comic (Allison Janney and Jim Gaffigan as a miserable married couple in Arizona and Maggie Gyllenhaal as a pretentious professor) to heartfelt (Carmen Ejogo as Verona’s younger sister) to tragic (Chris Messina and Melanie Lynskey as college friends who seem blissfully happy but hide a private sorrow).
This episodic quality and quirky, funny script gives the direction by Academy Award winner Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road) a lighter touch than his normal work, and this looseness fits him well.
While all of the guest stars come in, do their things and get out, the real test here is whether or not we like the lead characters.
The biggest surprise here is star Maya Rudolph, who was relatively funny on SNL years ago, but her past career has done nothing to prepare us for what an assured and nuanced dramatic actress she can be. The film lives and dies on her performance (Krasinski gets as much airtime, but his character is not nearly as vital to the story) and Rudolph carries the load without any missteps or trepidation.
Her work alone makes Away We Go worth seeing, and happily there are many other reasons to recommend the film – despite a few storytelling missteps. (The Gyllenhaal section in particular feels awkwardly over the top in a mostly subtle film).
Then again, as this movie points out, life is messy and complicated and goofy and tragic – often at the same time. Therefore, I’m sure that Burt and Verona would not want their story told any other way.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2009 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: June 3, 2009.