REVIEW: Away We Go [2009]

“Do the preggo shuffle”

I love Sam Mendes; I’ll say that now. What else do I love? Comedies with indie quirk. And that leads me to Away We Go, a film that embodies the genre completely as evidenced by the trailer with its awkward laughs, (I stapled the itinerary to your coat? Really?), and “cool” soundtrack, I must have absolutely loved it … right? Wrong. I know I should, I know that people all around me are showering it with praise, but besides the final thirty minutes—‘Away to Montreal,’ ‘Away to Miami,’ and ‘Home’—it is laboriously slow and uninteresting. Sure I laughed, and stars John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph are fantastic, it’s just the story that never resonated with me. Until those last travels, taking them places that included situations of true weight, we mostly watch them reconnect with friends and family from the past to bring out some cheap laughs and a whole lot of uncomfortable. If you thought Allison Janney was quite the character in the trailer, just wait until the crazy hijinks leave her mouth in unedited glory, you may just change your mind.

Burt and Verona, (Krasinski and Rudolph), are a couple in their mid-thirties, unmarried and pregnant with their first child. They have moved to Burt’s hometown in order to be by his parents, who have offered to help, (her folks passed on a decade earlier). Living in a trailer, doing mostly freelance work, and declaring their love for each other every second of the day—they are quite the cute couple—the idea that they have gone astray in life becomes one that sets them on a cross country journey to find a new place to call home. The fact that the two people they thought they could count on moving to Antwerp for two years definitely expedited that decision. So, they are off to Phoenix, Tucson, Madison, and Montreal to see where is best to raise their unborn daughter, all locales with people they know, an already active support group to help jumpstart their new life. The film is not about the baby though, nor how the two try to learn how to be good parents, despite the plethora of parenting advice thrown their way. Instead it is a tale about two lost souls that have each other with no other ties tethering them anywhere. It’s a journey for them to discover that home is wherever the other is, none of the other static means a thing.

Like any cathartic spiritual journey, there must be a series of stops along the way, showing them how bad life can be with wrong decisions and lies. There is the couple that doesn’t really love each other, an indifferent malaise that has trickled down to their children; parents that have the opportunity to be selfish and finally live for themselves, no matter if their grandchild will be born the month after; a kooky family following the three S’s in life, resulting in a hippy lifestyle that makes them so self-important and bourgeois despite “hating” all that that label brings with it; and a pair of old college friends, unable to conceive, with a slew of adopted kids in a loving and censored lifestyle. A lot of the antics dealing with these clichés bring some solid humor, but even more supply forced situations that lead nowhere except for empty laughs leaving an unsatisfying taste in your mouth. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s LN, (yes that’s her name), and Josh Hamilton’s Roderick and so over-written and stereotypical that I wondered why it took so long for our “heroes” to realize how vapid they were. And what is with the five-year-old breastfeeding? Talk about unnecessary shock value. I did like the stroller bit at the end of the sequence, however, so it wasn’t all bad.

Kudos to Rudolph and Krasinski for really breathing some life in their roles, though, embodying the affliction that is the thirty-something crisis of being an adult. They react to the situations thrown their way with consistency to character and end up in the place they had been working towards all along. Why they had to endure so much overwrought comedy before reaching that point, I do not know, especially since the trip to Montreal and unfortunate visit to Miami are all that were needed to get them opened up to where they end. Maybe Verona’s sister, played by Carmen Ejogo, helps the cause too, but no one else. All others become filler to pad out the story and trick the audience into thinking something relevant occurred since they laughed.

Miami contained the phenomenal Paul Schneider with virtually an extended monologue about how his wife has changed their family’s lives forever. It’s a strong performance that shows Krasinski what it means to be a parent and how having his girlfriend by his side is the most important thing to him. As for Montreal, the Garnetts, (Chris Messina and Melanie Lynskey), expose our leads to the fragility of existence and the many definitions of what family is. In a very touching scene, moreso because of its amateur night pole-dancing locale, we get two powerful performances and a nice metaphor comparing love with syrup. After our introduction to the Garnetts, the end result surprises a bit, but with total clarity and understanding of where they are coming from. And the final segment, ‘Home,’ is just the perfect bookend to the tale, leading the soon-to-be parents and us to paradise. Why, oh why did this final third have to be attached to such trite frivolity?

Away We Go is a well-made film with some heart underneath the too smart for its own good script, but it isn’t enough to save it from mediocrity in my mind. Sadly I think Mendes should stick to the drama, or at least biting satire, (American Beauty), and leave the intelligent rom-com genre to Zach Braff. It is worth seeing for the work by those I singled out, but in the end it just contains too much filler for me to whole-heartedly recommend you spend your money to go see it. I wanted so much to love this film and after being humbled by its lack of true success, I can only try and not get my hopes up too high for (500) Days of Summer, because that, my friends, looks like gold.

Away We Go 6/10 | ★ ★ ½

[1] John Krasinski (left) stars as Burt and Maya Rudolph (right) stars as Verona in Sam Mendes’ AWAY WE GO, a Focus Features release. Photo: François Duhamel
[2] Allison Janney (at left) stars as Lily and Jim Gaffigan (to her left) stars as Lowell in Sam Mendes’ AWAY WE GO, a Focus Features release. Photo: François Duhamel


One Thought to “REVIEW: Away We Go [2009]”

  1. Andrea

    Before I went to see the movie, the trailers seemed somewhat funny. I know that the overall message behind the movie was about finding a place to call home, but I think it was dragged out. There was light humor but it did not last for long. The best part was the trip to Miami to see Burt’s family. I think we sometimes forget how imperfect life is; it can change instantly. The typical “traditional family” does not exist anymore which is explored in this movie. The love between Verona and Burt is evident and well portrayed, but the movie just didn’t have enough of a spark to keep one’s interest.

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