Movie Review: Away We Go

By Tom Houseman

June 22, 2009

Don't worry, lady. We feel the same way about that beard.

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Away We Go, the new film from director Sam Mendes and married writers Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, is a film about questions. It is a film about two people, unmarried couple Bert (John Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph) who have questions about the direction their lives are going, whether they are making the right choices, and most importantly, whether they are going to be capable parents. Verona is pregnant, and after Bert's parents announce that they are moving to Europe for two years, they decide that they need to find a new ambiance in which to raise their child. It is also a film about movement, as we follow the two around the continent as they visit Arizona, Wisconsin, Montreal, and Miami searching for the perfect place to live and a few answers to their many questions. Richly drawn and perfectly executed, Away We Go is a wonderfully funny film about real people and is able to explore serious issues in a lighthearted and touching way.

Away We Go is a gem of a film, one that you can turn around and look at from a number of different angles, each one refracting the light in a different direction and giving you a different perspective on the events and the characters. There is so much depth in this film, in terms of character development, story, emotion, and composition, that its simplicity is deceptive. At its core, Away We Go is a classic road trip film, and it is not trying to do anything more than tell its story, but it accomplishes where so many films fail, in bringing its characters to life and making the audience care about them as if they were real people. By the end of Away We Go you will feel as if you have known Bert and Verona your whole life.

Much of the credit for the complexity of these characters has to go to the actors who play them. John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph made their names on television shows not known for particularly realistic characters, Krasinski on The Office and Rudolph on Saturday Night Live. It isn't until actors like these are given meaty roles that you realize just how talented they are, and both of them give the best performances of their thus-far short careers. They never play any scene for laughs, but you can always tell exactly what they are thinking, every raised eyebrow and half smile giving away everything and expertly tracking the emotional rollercoaster they're on during the 98 minutes in which we are in their world.


And it is very much their world, a world of two as created by director Sam Mendes, who continues to prove himself one of the best film directors working today. Away We Go is very simply put together, using mostly tracking shots and simple two-shot setups, Mendes does a superb job of creating a world where Bert and Verona are at the center and everyone else is on the outside. It is these two vs. everyone else, and every minute we are rooting for them with all our hearts.

Eggers and Vida supply the script with several supporting characters we love to hate and a few with whom we empathize as we see them through Bert and Verona's eyes on their journey. The most entertaining are Jim Gaffigan and Allison Janney as a deeply unhappy couple who ignore their children while talking about any number of inappropriate topics, and, as their polar opposites, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Josh Hamilton as stiflingly spiritual parents who believe that strollers are the root of all evil. Sure, some of the supporting characters are a bit cliché, but they're so damn entertaining that you won't be complaining.

It would be easy, if one were so inclined, to compare Away We Go to Mendes's last film, Revolutionary Road. Revolutionary Road was a film about people trapped in a life they didn't want, and the claustrophobic ambiance was overwhelming, as created by Mendes' superb direction. This film takes a similar couple, two confused people, in love but scared, trying to find answers. Away We Go, like Revolutionary Road, has an incredible depth and emotional energy that carries from beginning to end, but unlike Mendes' other films (all of which have been brutally depressing) is a light, charming, wonderfully funny film that is a joy to watch.



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