Away We Go
Sam Mendes is, for me, one of the most interesting directors putting out films right now. He’s definitely had his misses. Jarhead was uneven and overly trite in it’s portrayal of affected American soldiers in Iraq, The Road to Perdition was a solid, good film, but vastly overrated. But he, at the very least, has a competence behind the camera that makes any of his films interesting to watch. Away We Go, written by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, is no different. It’s effectively charming, funny, and a little sappy, but falls just short of the mark.
The film begins with an extremely intimate scene between our protagonist couple, pregnant Verona (Maya Rudolph), and Burt (John Krazinski). Two thirty-somethings confused at their inability to assimilate into normal adult society and expectations. Both are damaged goods (lots of emotional baggage), and a little scruffy, but their sincerity and modesty (presented in front of a backdrop of heartfelt acoustic music) is enough to win over all but the most jaded of viewers. Burt and Verona are clever and talented, nearly perfect. Quickly after the film starts, in a particularly vulnerable moment, Verona asks, ‘Are we fuck-ups?’ It seems the two actually don’t know the answer to this question. But boy, do we ever learn the answer.
Having extremely flexible lives, the two decide to find a suitable place to raise their daughter, giving them the excuse to travel the country, visiting family members and old friends and reopening old emotional wounds. The couple encounters an extremely diverse array of people. But unfortunately, the script doesn’t allow any sort of real human exchanges since the characters we meet aren’t really characters, but caricatures of bad people. Burt’s parents (Jeff Daniels and Catherine O’Hara) are the definition of self-involved and passive aggressively racist–’Do you think the baby will be black like you?’ the mother asks. An old boss of Verona’s (Allison Janney) and her husband (Jim Gaffigan), hate each other, and hate their overweight children, berating their kids in front of guests with the dirtiest of mouths. A seemingly happy couple of old college friends (Chris Messina and Melanie Lynskey) seem to have it all together until they break down, confessing to recently experiencing their fifth miscarriage, and a looming feeling of helplessness that all the adopted children in the world can’t seem to cure. There are more examples, but this seems to cover it.
All of these maladjusted characters are pocketed away as proof that despite Burt and Verona’s uncertainty, they are, in fact, superior to everyone, with no actual flaws to speak of, besides slightly untrimmed facial hair. It’s this notion that makes the viewer feel a little robbed of what could have been an interesting meditation about entering adulthood, becoming a parent, and finding one’s own place in the world. The performances are so unassuming and well done, and the script provides enough laughs, and tender moments that these flaws can easily be (and most certainly will be) overlooked. Praises to Krasiniski and Rudolph who clearly establish themselves as actors to be taken seriously. Away We Go is certainly better than your average fare, but I think it’s safe to say it isn’t what Mendes hoped it would be.