Away We Go

Director    Sam Mendes
Starring    John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Catherine O'Hara, Jeff Daniels, Maggie Gyllenhaal
Release    26 JUN (US) 18 SEP (UK)    Certificate 15
4 stars


16th September 2009

For a British director, Sam Mendes sure is hung up on the American dream. American Beauty and Revolutionary Road both exposed the fašade of American domestic bliss, leaving behind a pretty bitter aftertaste. Mendes carries the technique of examining American life at close proximity by zooming in on one couple, from Revolutionary Road to Away We Go.

Here, he takes the myth of the great American road trip as its subject matter. Yet the couples in these two Mendes movies could not be more different and the tone of the films, ditto.

It's easy to fall for Burt (John Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph); within 15 minutes they've got you, you're smitten. On discovering that Verona is pregnant (via an unconventional pregnancy test), Burt and Verona are caught unprepared for the imminent pitter-patter. "Are we fuck-ups?" Verona asks Burt who tries to reassure her as they listen to the sound of the wind whistle through their window patched up with cardboard. Luckily Burt's parents live nearby and they will be able to help out. Then when Verona is six months pregnant, Burt's parents (the brilliant combination of Catherine O'Hara and Jeff Daniels) drop a bombshell - they're moving to Antwerp.

Burt and Verona are suddenly cast adrift, losing their sense of where home is. Without Burt's parents they no longer have any connection to the place they live in, but they decide to look upon it as an opportunity, a chance to travel and find the perfect place to raise their family. So away they go, visiting an assortment of friends and family, road testing different lifestyles in an attempt to find out what works for them. Each stop along the way teaches them something about the sort of parents they want to be, and more importantly, the sort of parents they do not want to be.

They do not want to be like Maggie Gyllenhaal's character LN for instance; an insufferable new age mum who objects to "the three S's" - separation, sugar and strollers. "I love my babies, why would I want to push them away from me?" she moans. Burt and Verona show a healthy level of disrespect for this lifestyle, gleefully disrupting the feng shui bullshit before taking off on the next leg of their journey.

There are so many great things about this film, from the gorgeous soundtrack by Alexi Murdoch, to the beautiful shots of wide open space you forget exist if you live in the city. But the greatest of all is the warmth of Burt and Verona; such well-crafted characters are rare.

[gallery]This is down to an outstanding screenplay by husband and wife Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida. Eggers has long been a fixture of the hip American literary scene, founding publishing house McSweeney's, while Vida is an established novelist, but this is the first foray into screenwriting for them both. They could not have entrusted their characters to two more perfectly cast actors.

Krasinski (best known for his role in the American version of The Office) is like an overgrown puppy, bounding joyfully and clumsily through life. He provides much of the film's humour and is completely adorable. He takes to sneaking up on Verona to startle her before whipping out a heart monitoring gadget to see what effect this has on the baby's heart rate.

Slightly worrying behaviour for a father-to-be, but this is where Verona comes in. She's grounded with a no-nonsense attitude and an infinite well of kindness, which is not to say she is the straight one of the pairing, Maya Rudolph's comedic background on Saturday Night Live coming in handy. They complement each other wonderfully and the natural rapport between Krasinski and Rudolph is plain to see.

Inevitable comparisons to Juno aren't particularly helpful - this film is about grown-ups for grown-ups, so like, quit with the Juno jibber, dang. So do Burt and Verona find the perfect place to call home? Well, you'll just have to go and see it to find out. And please do, it'll leave you with a spring in your step and a smile on your face for days. If it doesn't, you need to get to the nearest hospital pronto - there's something seriously wrong with you.

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