Away We Go Directed by: Sam Mendes Cast: Maya Rudolph, John Krasinski, Maggie Gyllenhall, Allison Janney Time: 1 hr 37 mins Rating: R Release Date: June 5, 2009
Plot: When a thirty-something couple find out they’re pregnant, they set off to discover a new place to raise their unborn child. A series of events unfold that both lure them against their instincts, and drive them further into doubting where they ‘belong.’ A myriad of characters they encounter along the way help them realize that it may not be the location they decide upon, but the sentiments inspired by the place they’ll eventually, hopefully call home.
Who’s It For?: Fans who have both given up on Dave Eggers [writer/screenwriter], and those who have yet to admit he’s lost his “Dramedic” touch. This is also a feature film that’s reached out to television fixtures, and career-long character actors to carry the serio-comedic load. This is a risky venture, but the talent amassed for Away We Go is collectively applauded for their nuanced take on everymen andeverywomen the (crazy) world over.
Expectations: Eggers’ career has been made or broken over his controversial subject matter, and the occasionally off-putting methods he uses to tug at our heartstrings. The same can be said for director Sam Mendes. He’s been lauded for brilliance (American Beauty) and patted on the back for acceptably concocted films like Jarhead, and Revolutionary Road. The question has always been ‘when’ he would bring us a film as groundbreakingly honest as his mesmerizing debut with American Beauty. Many are expecting this one to do just that.
Maya Rudolph as Verona De Tessant: As a staple on SNL throughout the early part of this decade, Rudolph made a name for herself as a versatile, gifted slinger of many different comedic faces. The question was whether or not her talents would translate to a full-length film in which she’s required to pull back her comprehensive reins. “Verona” is a deep thinker whose restless nature makes her question her abilities as a future mother, and the direction her and her life partner are going—And if they’re going anywhere at all. Remember when Jim Carrey was asked to subdue his comedic instincts, and “get real” in Eternal Sunshine? Of course you do, and for many of the same reasons you’ll remember this performance. An occasional unleashing of comic timing, but a largely sedate portrait of a woman starting a family without the traditional foundations that could have eased her doubt. Score: 8
John Krasinski as Burt Farlander: Just as Jennifer Anniston has struggled with her big screen challenge to make people see more than just a cleverly concealed version of Rachel Green, Krasinski has been propositioned with the difficult task of making people see more than just another version of Jim Halpert. Thanks to his superior acting-instincts, what we see in Burt reminds us more of our oddly inspired, disheveled-hair-donning friend who spent his college years trying to get us to see this “awesome new band,” than a paper-products salesman from Scranton. He’s a lovable dude who comes across as a perpetual underachiever despite being able to sling chameleonic sports-related trash-talk-banter during otherwise mundane phone conversations with his well-paying (far elder) superiors. His patience for Verona’s often-stifling self-doubt makes Burt the “it guy” for so many female Decemberist-fans out there. You’ll understand what I mean. Score: 9
Maggie Gyllenhall as LN: First, the name. LN, is sounded out as Ellen, and this should be enough to clue in audience members that there’s nothing unorthodox about this character. Gyllenhall’s gifts for offering us off-beat quirky, adorably benevolent-cum-ethically righteous persons assist her rendition of this horrifically aloof tree-hugging, stroller-admonishing hippie whose slanted version of parenting is as hilariously stupefying as one could imagine. Anyone against breast feeding children who can walk and talk will opening dislike this woman, and the ill-informed multitude of pathos she emits from her mouth about the “oneness” a child and a parent should feel (even in bed) will stir many a cringe from this film’s audience members. Score: 8
Allison Janney as Lily: There are so many different “come and go” characters in this film to choose from. With Lily, I’m going with the most shockingly memorable. The hilarious parental advice she gives to Verona and Burt are too outwardly repellent to mention for fear that the bite of use won’t sting as much if you are aware of these “guiding suggestions” going in. She’s both a lush, and an “experienced” mother whose public behavior strips laughs from even the most jaded of overprotective parental units. She’s a hideously underachieving mom whose clueless references to her children stymie audience members who are laughing too hard to conceptualize the long-term negative effects this sort of reality will have on the out-on-their luck kids she’s so obliviously “bringing up.” Score: 8
Talking: Eggers knows how to extract the most vile, yet humorous musings of this planet’s most naïve human beings. Burt’s parents (played with reckless comedic abandon by Jeff Daniels and Catherine O’Hara) rely solely on the subtext only the two of them think isn’t absurdly obvious to other present parties. The conversations that take place between Verona and Burt are so endearing it’s a wonder they’re surrounded by a largely adolescent throng of wanna-be adults. Such a stoic interpretation of how “thirty is the new twenty-one” isn’t necessarily a good thing. Score: 8
Sights We see much of the country as Verona and Burt seek out their new home town, and it’s painted as a suitable backdrop for a confused couple whose drifting makes them self-conscious that not only are they no longer in their twenties, but very well may be “f*%#-ups,” rather than ready for parenthood. The country can feel a melting pot of bad examples when you’re unsure what the future holds. Away We Go does a textbook job of stirring these feelings in all of us. Score: 8
Sounds: Very standard Indie Rock soundtrack, with a few old-standards thrown in for good measure. This is a film about a couple that’d likely include every song used in this film on a road-trip play list. I love it when that happens. Score: 6
Best Scene: The opening scene, during a “compromising situation,” we learn something that will alter the course of the film. Two things you need to know—Without taste buds, or a curious, well-read mind, he may not have been able to conclude that his he and his girlfriend/soul mate’s lives are about the change forever.
Ending: Open-ended, and yet, I’m not too upset about it. You won’t be either. There’s something refreshing about a film that doesn’t have to have a formal ending. I like to call these “smart, relevant” films because they don’t expect the audience members to be utter fools who actually believe endings are nothing but “tragic,” or “happily ever after(s).”
Questions: So many will arise throughout your respective viewing, but ignore the instinct to try and answer them yourself. This is the story about two people you don’t know. There may be many similarities between you and either of these characters. Their situation becomes more common with each passing year—The “traditional family” is a dying breed. However, I strongly urge you to allow this movie to happen, rather than intermittently interject what you could have done differently, or whatever else your stubborn intuition inspires.
Rewatchability: Yes. Add to your collection upon its DVD/Blu-Ray release.
OVERALL Unless you’re an elderly fan of the GOP, a stockcar driver, or a Priest, it’s likely you’re going to be able to admire this film. Mendes may not have brought us another American Beauty, but his visual representation of Eggers’ candid storytelling capabilities offers up a raucous rendition of the “New American Family.” We are left to fend for ourselves on many occasions, but it’s nice not to have our hands held every time a back-story isn’t entirely explained. The audience should doubt/believe what they want. Mendes acknowledges this, but doesn’t let us stray too far without being reminded this is his story, not ours. The cast is a defiant ensemble of aces that collectively shoulder the load so well, it doesn’t feel like they’re acting. This is an ironic positive, and you’ll understand what I mean when whole scenes feature hilarious one-liners andtear-jerking moments in one full swoop. When good direction, and open-minded performance mesh, Oscar talk circulates. By bringing us the “good, the bad, and the ugly” that arises in troublesome life moments, Mendes truly brings us an “American beauty.”
Final Score: 8/10