Posted by: Tony – Jul 20, 2009
Director Sam Mendes makes movies about relationships. Both American Beauty and Revolutionary Road examined the breakdown and death of romance in the American marriage. At it’s core, The Road to Perdition was the tale of a father and son that are forced to finally understand and subsequently love the other as a result of the situation they find themselves in. Jarhead is about the Gulf War and its soldiers. Now, with Away We Go, Mendes sets his focus on the journey of a couple on the brink of parenthood.
The film begins with Burt Farlander (John Krasinski) and Verona De Tessant (Maya Rudolph) discovering an awful flash of news. Burt’s parents intend on moving to Belgium a month before their granddaughter is to be born. The couple soon realizes the only reason they remained living in this area was to be in proximity to family. Now that this is no longer an issue, they decide to travel across North America for a place that feels like home to the couple.
Away We Go spends a fair amount of the film going through the different trends and models of the American family. The audience is exposed to everything from single parents to families led by new-age philosophies that seem more detrimental than helpful for the development of a family unit. Along with that, one interesting aspect of the storytelling is the personification of landscapes and environments through the cinematography. Burt and Verona travel from the deserts of Arizona to Madison, Wisconsin to Montreal and to Miami. Each location offers itself as a character to each part of the story. The barren, dying desert seems to play as a perfect backdrop to the couple of Lily and Lowell (as played by Allison Janney and Jim Gaffigan). The two live in a confusing marriage where neither seems to be all too happy and the characters as well as the audience question why they remain together. Also, by the time the film reaches the end of their travels, they finally discover a place to call home. The moment is breathtaking and serves as a perfect moment where the environment serves as a great gift of an ending for both the characters and the audience.
This is certainly light-hearted fare for a director like Mendes. It’s no surprise considering the screenplay was co-written by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida. For those unfamiliar, Eggers is famously known with his literary magazine entitled McSweeney’s and he is the author of What is the What and A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. The two writers bring forth several real moments that earn their laughs and never feel too forced. One of my biggest pet peeves is that I never felt like anything in Away We Go was truly at stake. For Eggers and Vida, they get away with it by offering a realistic portrayal of an experience for Burt and Verona. The journey they go in is a huge risk and it isn’t necessary for a cliché trope to be thrown in as a hurdle. Burt and Verona’s understanding of their mid-thirties along with the preparation for parenthood is enough to make the film rewarding and exhilarating. If this film acts as any indicator for Eggers’ quirks at cinematic storytelling, I cant wait to see how his charms work with adapting Where the Wild Things Are later this year.
Maya Rudolph was the biggest acting surprise in the picture. After seeing her be a part of Saturday Night Live for so many years, she has never been given a part quite like this. A role that requires her to be vulnerable, frightened, genuinely funny and most of all human. She steals every scene she is in and it doesn’t hurt that co-star John Krasinski supports her.
Krasinski is best known for his role as “Jim” on NBC’s The Office. A film like this doesn’t exactly demand much of a stretch for a performer like Krasinski. Yet, he is a perfect supporting player. Even in the most lackluster of comedies (Leatherheads and License to Wed), he proves to be a prominent force that we should all keep a close eye on in the future. His interactions with Rudolph are endearing and poignant. In any relationship, there needs to be a strong support system and the two actors are a very convincing couple. At their most vulnerable moments, the other player is constantly there and it proves to make the film exist in a realistic realm that several portrayals of these types of relationships seem to miss.
This isn’t the best film Mendes has ever directed, but it is still a strong addition to his filmography. The performances are great and the dialogue is well written. The best thing that could be said about this film is that it has heart. The final interactions of Burt and Verona are whimsical upon their discovery of home. The two are still left uncertain as to what the future holds for them and if this place is truly going to be the perfect home for their new burgeoning family. In moments like this, the film truly relishes in it’s realistic arc about adults that can only be so prepared for the next step and that’s why this is one of the better and thoughtful films to be released this year.
Film Review: Away We Go Starring: John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Jeff Daniels, Catherine O’Hara Director: Sam Mendes Writers: Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida by Shannon Cleary