Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Maggie Gyllenhaal, John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Carmen Ejogo, Catherine O'Hara, Jeff Daniels
RunTime: 1 hr 38 mins
Released By: Shaw (exclusively at the Picturehouse)
Rating: M18 (Sexual Scene and Some Sexual References)
Official Website: http://www.filminfocus.com/focusfeatures/film/away_we_go/
Opening Day: 6 May 2010
Exploring the comedic twists and emotional turns in one couple's journey across contemporary America, Away We Go is the new movie from Academy Award-winning director Sam Mendes, from the first original screenplay by novelists Dave Eggers & Vendela Vida, and featuring music by singer/songwriter Alexi Murdoch.
Longtime (and now thirtysomething) couple Burt (John Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph) are going to have a baby. The pregnancy progresses smoothly, but six months in, the pair is put off and put out by the cavalierly delivered news from Burt's parents Jerry and Gloria (Jeff Daniels and Catherine O'Hara) that the eccentric elder Farlanders are moving out of Colorado, thereby eliminating the expectant couple's main reason for living there.
So, where, and among whom of those closest to them, might Burt and Verona best put down roots to raise their impending bundle of joy? The couple embarks on an ambitious itinerary to visit friends and family, and to evaluate cities. The first stop on the grand tour is Phoenix, where the duo spends a day at the (dog) races with Verona's irrepressible (and frequently inappropriate) former colleague Lily (Allison Janney) and her repressible family, including husband Lowell (Jim Gaffigan); then it's Tucson, and a visit to the lovely Grace (Carmen Ejogo), Verona's sister.
An intimate conversation with her sister, who is her lone living relative, gives Verona a refreshed perspective which she will sorely need in Wisconsin, where Burt's childhood cousin Ellen, now known as LN (Maggie Gyllenhaal), and her partner Roderick (Josh Hamilton) have Burt and Verona over to their home. After LN and Roderick elaborate on their intractable ideas for raising children and running a household, Burt and Verona bolt for Montreal and a warmer welcome from their former college classmates Tom (Chris Messina) and Munch (Melanie Lynskey).
Even though the latter's house is full of children, comfort and joy, a night out for the four old friends provides a bracing reminder of how much it takes to sustain a relationship and a family. When an emergency phone call forces Burt and Verona into an unanticipated Miami detour to visit Burt's brother Courtney (Paul Schneider), they realize that they must define home on their own terms.
Away We Go can fit so easily into the local context once the scale of travel gets shrunk to the size of our island state. As part of any family planning, parents will want to choose a place to call home that's near the parents / in-laws, near good schools, comes with fantastic amenities within a 5 minute walk, and such, because while thinking of convenience, there's this balance to be achieved with thinking ahead on the kid's education, a good neighbourhood to be brought up in, and keeping the older folks within reach for that weekend visit.
For Burt Farlander (John Krasinski) and Verona De Tessant (Maya Rudolph), their choice of a home is simple, to stay near Farlander's folks (Jeff Daniels and Catherine O'Hara) since the De Tessants are no longer around, until the soon-to-be parents are told by Burt's folks that they are going to exact their long harboured plan of uprooting themselves to Antwerp, Belgium for two years. So when given some lemons, it's time to make lemonade and decide on the next best alternative, since they're not being bogged down to be near the older generation, they are free to decide where exactly they want to live to bring up baby in 3 months time. Thus begins a nationwide road trip to revisit friends and family for that perfect little city to settle down in.
From Montreal to Miami, we follow the leads in their re-connection with people they once knew or haven't met in a long time, and along the way, we learn more about Burt and Verona, and their characters and quirks. It's an episode of revelation one after another, especially when each destination brings them into contact with the quirky supporting characters who add tremendous flavour to the entire picture, being so vastly different from one another and true too, since it's highly unrealistic if we have friends from different social circles who are so alike. The story by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida follows the road trip formula, although they come up tops in the situations and characters they craft, even if some may be one dimensional, but always plenty of fun.
Can you imagine Sam Mendes directing a comedy? Not quite, but here he helms this film quite effortlessly, and knowing his strength in bringing out character relationships, both John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph excel in their performance under his direction. Through the episodes encountered, they display excellent dynamics as a couple even though Maya's Verona doesn't believe in the institution of marriage. It's almost enlightening seeing how modern relationship issues get brought out to the open and tackled in such a poignant manner, that you feel exactly how the characters do, even if you're not a would-be parent.
Personally, the episodes that stand out and I highly enjoyed, include a moment of overcoming tremendous personal tragedy that explained how some have to resort to adoption while critical of others who don't cherish what's taken for granted, and the resolutions to fears of potentially breaking one's promise when the going gets tough. It's these little moments that Mendes brings out, that elevates the film out of the cheesiness expected to come out of a road trip. But it's not always weary and dreary, as Maggie Gyllenhaal's episode is truly hilarious, yet pointed at those who cruelly deprive the childhood out of their children by imposing bigoted beliefs that frankly makes little sense.
There are those who deem Burt and Verona as being very critical and standing on a high moral platform to be judging their friends and family, however one forgets about the anxieties that come along with the introduction of a new human being into the world, and that sense of tremendous responsibility that comes along with it. It's something innate that we want the very best of for our offspring, and surely, it's quite hypocritical to think that you don't bitch about loved ones once in a while.
Away We Go is that little gem that comes in between the slew of big budgeted blockbusters. If noisy action is not your cup of tea this season, then don't miss this tale that may seem like a road trip movie on the surface, but contains plenty of heart underneath capped by an all round fine performance from its cast. Recommended!
(Don't push this film away for summer blockbusters!)
Review by Stefan Shih