October 5, 2009
Away We Go
Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Rating (out of 5): ***
The brilliant writer, self-promoter and publisher Dave Eggers makes the inevitable leap to screenwriting with Away We Go, co-written with his wife, novelist Vendela Vida. Perhaps not surprisingly, the film is very funny when broken into individual scenes, but it takes too many easy potshots at low targets and thereby fails to come together as an emotional whole.
Burt (The Office's John Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph, SNL, Idiocracy) are a happy thirtysomething couple, living a simple life. Burt sells insurance and Verona is a graphic designer. But everything changes when they learn that they're expecting their first child. Hoping that Burt's parents (Catherine O'Hara and Jeff Daniels) will lend a hand, they're shocked to learn that his parents instead will be moving halfway around the world. Burt and Verona realize that they're not really tied down to any particular place, and so take a road trip to find a new place to live, preferably near some friends or family.
Their first stop is Phoenix, to visit Verona's old friend Lily (Allison Janney), her husband Lowell (famously pale comedian Jim Gaffigan) and their two kids. Lily is loud, cheerful and cynical, and Lowell has a low, mean simmer, like a repressed serial killer. The couple moves on. Next stop is to see Burt's "cousin" (really a childhood friend), Ellen (or "LN") (Maggie Gyllenhaal), an odd, hippy-ish Women's Studies professor who hates baby carriages. ("I love my babies! Why would I want to push them away?")
If these two visits are overly cartoonish and comic, then the next visits are overly poignant and dramatic, causing our heroes to strengthen their own resolve. First Verona's former classmates Tom (Chris Messina) and Munch (The Informant!'s Melanie Lynskey) live in a happy house full of adopted children, but are forever heartbroken over the fact that Munch can't have kids of her own. Then Burt's brother (Paul Schneider, also the brother in Lars and the Real Girl) has just been dumped and finds himself the new, single father of a young daughter.
Director Sam Mendes mainly seems determined to turn in a film 180 degrees away from his chilly Revolutionary Road, and so Away We Go looks warm and ratty and slightly scuffed, like comfortable slippers. And certainly the two appealing leads help carry the film, with some rich character depths and non-movie star looks. It's just that their journey is so shallow and rote. Perhaps if they had stayed home, they could have learned just as much.
DVD Details: The DVD from Universal/Focus has a pretty standard 16-minute making-of featurette, a six-minute featurette about "green" filmmaking, and a commentary track by director Mendes and writers Eggers and Vida.
Posted by cphillips at October 5, 2009 11:27 AM