Sam Mendes is a director who has been most successful in his career with very dark films such as American Beauty, Road to Perdition, and last year’s Revolutionary Road. With Away We Go, Mendes tries to step away from the darkness and create a more quirky film with an independent feel to it. Although admirable, Mendes’ attempt is nevertheless a largely unsuccessful experience mostly because of the film’s unevenness and lack of real conflict.


The movie stars the likeable John Krasinski (The Office) and Maya Rudolph (Saturday Night Live) as Burt Farlander and Verona De Tessant. Why do these two lovebirds have different last names you might ask? Well, Verona doesn’t see the point to getting married even though these two are expecting their first child – a baby girl.


They live in a poor excuse for a home and they are worried about whether or not they will find a suitable place for their child to live. After Burt’s parents (Catherine O’Hara and Jeff Daniels) announce that they are moving to Belgium and will miss the baby's birth, Burt and Verona decide to go on a road trip to find their new home.



Their first stop is Phoenix where they run into the dysfunctional Lily (Allison Janney) and her husband Lowell (Jim Gaffigan). In these scenes, Gaffigan actually provides the funniest parts in the film. On the other hand, the usually reliable Janney is way over the top and quite annoying. This isn’t one of those cases where the annoying character provides laughs for the audience. Burt and Verona think that she’s miserable and so do I.


When Phoenix doesn’t work out, the happy couple travels all around the map from Montreal to Madison, and meet a variety of people such as Burt’s friend Ellen (Maggie Gyllenhaal), college friends Tom (Chris Messina) and Munch (Melanie Lynskey), as well as Burt’s brother (Paul Schneider from 2009’s Bright Star). The sequences involving these characters are actually quite tolerable. Gyllenhaal’s scenes are played mostly for laughs, and she does deliver some, but the true drama is developed when they meet Tom, Munch, and Burt’s brother.


As a matter of fact, the drama developed in these sequences is quite good. However, don’t mistake this drama for conflict. All of the obstacles presented always deal with other people, not Burt and Verona. Burt’s brother has been left by his wife and Tom and Munch are struggling to recapture their youth. These are all effective situations, but our protagonists do nothing to get involved. They’re in these people’s lives for ten minutes and then it’s off to the next city.


I also didn’t get why they started this road trip when Verona was six months pregnant. It’s as if the couple didn’t think about raising their child until she started to gain weight. In addition, I never quite cared for this couple because they really didn’t have any problems. Where is the right place to raise our kid? This is a problem faced by parents throughout the world and none of them have decided to make a movie out of it. Why should this couple’s journey be more worthy than everyone else’s?


The performances from Rudolph and Krasinski are both tolerable. Rudolph shows some talented dramatic chops, while Krasinski proves his work on The Office is no fluke. However, the script from Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida is lacking any true conflict for our main couple. I was completely unconvinced at the end of this film that these two had truly found the right place to settle down. They go through this entire journey across the country and their problem ends up being solved by some fluke of a back-story that I will fail to mention. It’s hard to look at a well-intentioned film like Away We Go and say that it comes up short. But it’s an even tougher task to have found true enjoyment out of this movie by the time the credits start to roll. 

2 comments:

CS said...

I was hoping for big things from this film but, after reading your review, I may need to lower my expecations greatly.

Danny King said...

@ CS: My expectations were similarly high for this film. I love Krasinski on The Office and I have enjoyed a lot of Mendes' films. Feel free to give it a try however. The film itself is only about 90 minutes, but it is a very long 90 minutes in my opinion.

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