& Vendela Vida
Cinematographer: Ellen Kuras
John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph,
Carmen Ejogo, Catherine O’Hara, Jeff Daniels
Studio/Run Time: Focus Features, 98
John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Dave
Eggers and Sam Mendes have one in the oven
In a blind taste test of the charming
new film Away We Go, it’s doubtful that many movie-going citizens,
even when observed by technicians in white coats, would accurately
identify the film’s director. They might wrongly guess David O.
Russell, thinking of his early offbeat comedy Flirting with Disasterlike Jason Reitman or Judd Apatow, thinking of Juno or Knocked Up.
They might even describe the screenplay as Eggers-esque, nodding to
the impresario of the hip young literary magazines McSweeney’s and
The Believer, and they’d be more right than they know.
of a boyfriend (John Krasinski) does not immediately bring to mind
director Sam Mendes, whose films like Revolutionary Road and American
Beauty, for all their redeeming qualities, feel tucked and burnished
and fussed over like the coveted statues they sometimes seem designed
to earn. In sharp contrast, Away We Go breathes. Its affectless,
tossed-off quality tells a lumpy story built out of a few scenes that
fall flat but also a few that transcend, in part because they arrive
unexpectedly from an untidy little comedy. It’s a film that pokes
retrograde fun at nursing a child and wearing a baby close to the
heart (admittedly, extreme versions of these wholesome styles of
parenting) but then turns on a dime to stage a moment of profound
sadness inside a strip club.
Away We Goscreenplay by Dave Eggers and novelist Vendela Vida. Burt and Verona
are unexpectedly having a baby, so they feel the sudden urgency to
settle their lives. They’ve lost traction in the years since
college, and now in their thirties they zigzag across the U.S. to visit
new cities and distant friends, testing each location, examining each
couple, to find a suitable model. Where—and how—should
someone with a bundle of joy live? It’s an identity crisis and a
moral quandary in the form of an episodic trip like the ones in
Eggers’ novels A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and You
Shall Know Our Velocity. Burt and Verona’s history of fractured
families show traces of Eggers’ autobiographical stories, but in
collaboration with Vida his pallet extends beyond guy- and-sibling
bonding to include couplehood as well.
largely to John Krasinski’s puppy-dog performance. He’s likable,
not for the often insensitive and childish things he says, but
because he says them as a bearded 30-year-old kid who glows in the
presence of his girl. But it’s Verona who anchors the couple, and
it’s Rudolph who anchors the film. She played a slate of silly
characters on Saturday Night Live, but she gives a reactive and
nuanced performance in Away We Go, drawn from the character’s past
and suffused with a palpable, nervous longing. With the right script,
a good director and enough space, she shines in a dramatic role that
has little precedent in her body of work, just as her SNL alum Molly
Shannon did in Year of the Dog.
The lab of test subjects might not
identify Mendes as the director, but ten or 20 or 50 years from now,
they’d probably pinpoint the decade in which Away We Go was made.
It’s the product of the 2000s, that period of American film whose
sentimental comedies are about flannelled hipsters who forgot that
adulthood was inevitable until it was thrust upon them in the form of
broken hearts, sudden pain or the miracle of life. With low-key
cinematography and a cast drawn from TV and independent film, Away We
Gosounds like John C. Reilly, aural allusions that seat the film almost
subliminally among its funny, emotional peers.
At the same time, the way these films
honor grown-up seriousness in their touching conclusions makes me
wish for the day when they start from there as a premise instead of
situating each journey on the other side of the hill. However, I
write this self-consciously as someone in his thirties who recently
moved half way across the country with his wife and newborn, looking
for the right way to live. Sometimes a film seems easy most of all
because, for some of us, in some small way, it’s true.