REVIEW: Away We Go

98 Minutes // USA // Big Beach Films
dir. Sam Mendes
Saturday, June 27th, 2009 – Cineplex Varsity
starring: John Krasinski & Maya Rudolph

Away We Go is Sam Mendes’ 2009 romantic feature – a very different film in contrast with his 2008 romantic feature Revolutionary Road. In fact the only thing the two have in common are that the couples at hand feel trapped and helpless in the world… however I’d say Burt and Verona take a completely different route and avoid any extremes.

Beginning on a quirky and unusual scene with Burt Farlander (John Krasinski) giving oral pleasure to his long time girlfriend Verona De Tessant (Maya Rudolph) the film gives you a beautiful sense for what’s to come; a lot of quirky humor mixed with some raunchy bits. When he senses that she ‘tastes different’ and suddenly realizes that she’s pregnant, the film’s titles roll and the movie starts.

Burt and Verona feel helpless in the world because of their lack of structure. Burt maintains a very lackluster job as an insurance salesman to insurance companies and Verona has a very easy job that she does over the phone. Upon understanding the fact that they will be bringing a new life into the world, Verona wants out of their shack-like house and fantasies of an outdoorsy and natural environment for the child to grow up in. Burt latches onto the idea instantaneously and wants to become “that dad – the type that knows how to widdle”. When they realize that this is far too ideal and unrealistic to achieve, the couple begin to scout and ponder over various other places to move. From Phoenix to Alaska, Burt and Verona just want a beautiful landscape and peaceful enviroment for their child to grow up and for them to grow old in.

What most fans of Mendes will probably dislike about this feature is the fact that he tosses everything you’ve come to admire about him out the window. There is no poetry to be found in the cinematography and there certainly isn’t any shocking violence to gasp at. What you’ll get is a treasure chest of indie humor, an assortment of characters ranging from bizarre caricatures to the types of people you’d meet in a coffee shop. The mix keeps the film going and no character outside the main couple appears in the film for more than 15 minutes, so if you begin to dislike a certain segment, just hold your breath and it’ll be over shortly. Fortunately for me, I enjoyed each city the couple visited more than the last. Each have an impacting conclusion – whether it be sublime and emotional or full of side-splitting hilarity, Away We Go changes it up enough to appease me on several levels.

The two leads John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph deliver some great performance – especially Mr. Krasinski who I’ve come to love on The Office. Their comic timing and ability to play with deadpan humor is great. Krasinski edges out Rudolph in terms of charisma. He lights up every scene with his aura that all actors strive to achieve that he seems to obtain with great ease. The two play off of their supporting cast perfectly (and vise versa). If the environment they encounter is symbiotic to their personalities – not too dramatic, but rather light and playful – they mate heavenly with it. However, just as often as not, the couple are not able to adapt to the environment handed to them – this is where the deadpan and worrisome expressions become vibrant and churn out some of the more hilarious scenes in the film.

What the film creates in atmosphere and pleasure it lacks in reinforcing the central theme and message. Although the ending gives the film a fairly satisfying conclusion to a tiresome journey, I can’t help but nitpick at some of the reasons behind the segments. For the most part, they are uninspired and very ordinary. Half of them only add fuel to the fire that is only concerned about the type of parents the couple don’t want to turn out to be – the other half have moments of inspired meaning, but they still aren’t anything you haven’t seen in most other indie comedy/romances. Another issue I had with the film was how it represented the fact that Verona didn’t want to get married – it only seemed to be there for unconventional reasons and when a reason is finally handed to the audience you’re left there saying “Really?”.

It isn’t close to perfection, but coming from first time screenwriters in Dave Eggars and Vendela Vida, this is a solid way to start off.

With a simplistic choice in music (provided by Alex Murdoch) as well as a basic eye for pretty landscapes along the month long journey the couple takes, it is clear that Away We Go’s aspirations aren’t of a high pedigree. It doesn’t risk a lot, therefore it doesn’t gain a lot. If you’re looking for 90 minutes of quality entertainment with an eclectic cast with a bunch of names you’re familiar with then I suggest you see this. However, if you’re hoping that this will be along the lines of American Beauty then away you should go. [7/10]