REVIEW: Away We Go

12 08 2009

At the request of a dedicated reader, I decided to bump up my review of “Away We Go.”  I drove 45 minutes away to a remote suburb of Houston back in April to be one of the first people to see the movie, and I was not disappointed.  Two months later, I was there to see it again on its first weekend playing at an art house theater in Houston.  So needless to say, I really enjoyed the movie.  It is well-acted, featuring star turns from John Krasinski (Jim from TV’s “The Office”) and Maya Rudolph (TV’s “Saturday Night Live”), but it is really buoyed by its phenomenal supporting cast.  The film features a very heartfelt screenplay from Dave Eggers (author of “What is the What”) and his wife Vendela Vida.

Burt (Krasinski) and Verona (Rudolph) are a gentle, loving couple expecting a baby.  As all good parents do, they want their child to have a better life than they did.  So the two of them set out on a journey to find what they never really could: a home.  They visit old friends and family members, seeing broken relationships, marital tension, and lives that they don’t want to lead.  They discover that all they can do is love each other and hope that everything else works out.

Krasinski and Rudolph are very believable as a couple.  They make their characters easy to love despite their faults, and their good-natured relationship is what makes the film work and gives it heart.  However, the belly laughs are all courtesy of the supporting cast, featuring Catherine O’Hara and Jeff Daniels as Bert’s parents and Allison Janney as Verona’s zany and neurotic friend Lily, though the most outrageous was Maggie Gyllenhaal as Ellen, Bert’s childhood friend with a very different philosophy about how to raise children.

The movie is directed by Sam Mendes, who helmed one of my all-time favorites, “American Beauty.”  His most recent film was “Revolutionary Road,” a complete about-face on relationships from “Away We Go.”  This is his first foray into comedy, and it was impressive for a first film in the genre.  However, Mendes has more grace and poise in hard-hitting human drama.   And Eggers and Vida’s script, while absorbing and delightful, feels like a rehash of the best elements of “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Juno” with a hint of “National Lampoon’s Vacation.”  I hate to use the word “drag” about a 98 minute movie, but I think the movie could have ended a tad bit earlier at a very emotional and moving scene.  The movie’s original songs, performed by Alexi Murdoch, are subtle and soft, but it feels like a bad attempt to replicate the role of music in “Juno.”

“Away We Go” is truly a treat.  It is irresistibly sincere, wonderfully charming, and uproariously funny.  It treats the topics of parenthood, pregnancy, relationships, marriage, and home with the utmost respect and brings up thought-provoking questions about each of them.  This is a movie with its heart in the right place, a rarity in Hollywood nowadays.  B+ / 3stars



2 responses

12 08 2009

I agree with everything you liked about this movie, but I don’t think this was at all an attempt to rip off or copy indie comedies like Juno or Little Miss Sunshine. I feel like in your review, you are overlooking some of the stylistic elements that are key to understanding what Mendes was really trying to do with this film. The cinematography, the story’s premise, the quirky humor, and the continuous use of a single artist’s music – all these elements are not a rip off of Juno or Little Miss Sunshine. All these quirky indies are, to some degree, an homage to a certain style of filmmaking that emerged in Europe in the 1950s and in America in the 60s and 70s . Hal Ashby was a pioneer of the style with films like Harold and Maude as was Mike Nichols with The Graduate. These two films are the perfect example of what Sam Mendes is paying tribute to with Away We Go. Even with the music: Harold and Maude is scored with the music of Cat Stevens. The Graduate, with S&G.

Years later, guys like Wes Anderson, Jason Reitmen, and Alexander Payne took it to a whole new level, developing the style further and each making it their own. Unlike Reitman, Anderson, and Payne’s work, what Sam Mendes has made is NOT his own contribution towards further developing the movement, but rather a direct homage to the quirky comedies that started it all. And, in my opinion, that makes pitch perfect sense with the tone and feel of the script. And he tops it all off, as he does in all his films, with phenomenal performances from actors who don’t always get the chance to show off how freaking good they are. What Mendes offers is not another quirky indie comedy, but rather a direct reminder of the quirky comedy’s cinematic roots.

12 08 2009

Keep the reviews coming. This movie blogging stuff is fun.

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