Old 09-18-2009, 01:01 PM
Sam Mendes's Away We Go

Away We Go (2009)

After dealing with some of the most twisted relationships in "American Beauty" and "Revolutionary Road," for once Sam Mendes gets to deal with one where two people are completely in love, in a relationship where everything seems to be worked out....well, where almost everything is worked out.

Burt (John Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph) are about to have a baby together. They live in a house that is not exactly the ideal place to raise a child. There's cardboard over a window and it's not adequately heated. They go to visit Burt's parents (Catherine O'Hara and Jeff Daniels) for dinner, during which they drop a bombshell on Burt and Verona. This triggers a journey that will take Burt and Verona across North America as they go about trying to find the perfect place to live, picking up pieces of parenting advice from their friends and family along the way.

It is really refreshing to see a film that involves a relationship where the main focus is not the terrible problems that the couple is having. Not that Burt and Verona don't have problems, they certainly aren't perfect, but they are so truly in love that it only seems like they don't have problems.

When they visit Burt's parents, they tell Burt and Verona that they will be moving to Antwerp, Belgium a month before Verona has her baby. This greatly concerns Burt and Verona as they were probably counting on some support. Burt's parents don't even really seem to mind that they will miss the first couple of years of their grandchild's life.

It's characters like this that make "Away We Go" such a great experience. It's a film that is about the supporting characters as much as it's about the two main characters. Burt and Verona spend the movie trying to figure out the right place and way to raise their child, but it seems like almost everyone they know is a bad parent.

The first place they go to after visiting Burt's parents is to visit an old boss of Verona's, Lily (Allison Janey), who is married to Lowell (Jim Gaffigan). Lily is a very outspoken person, saying anything she likes in front of her kids because she believes that they don't hear her anyway. Lowell always seems down in the dumps and very soft-spoken, probably a result of being married to Lily.

There's a brief stopover to visit Verona's sister, Grace (Carmen Ejogo), who, as Verona tells Burt, needs some kind of validation to be with her latest boyfriend. Burt, in all politeness, tries to spin everything about him in a positive light, being for the most part, unsuccessful and far too obvious in his straining to do so.

The weirdest characters that Burt and Verona encounter are an old friend of Burt's, LN (Maggie Gyllenhaal), and her husband Roderick (Josh Hamilton). They are very into the spiritual side of life and even have a set rule where they don't believe in the "three s's:" Separation, Sugar, and Strollers. This all leads to one of the best scenes in the film as they all sit down to dinner.

During this dinner, LN, whose real name is Ellen, but changed it to simply the letters "LN," and her husband exert an incredibly pompous attitude, acting like their lifestyle is the best, with all others being ignorant. They believe in a family bed and not hiding their lovemaking from their child. Burt even brings a stroller as a gift, but, oh no, that's one of the "three s's!" The stroller, however, gets its use in this scene, to Burt and Verona's (and the audience's) delight.

We also meet some old friends that Burt and Verona went to college with, Tom (Chris Messina) and Munch Garnett (Melanie Lynskey). This is where the film begins to take a more dramatic turn as we learn about the Garnetts' life. The final people they meet are Burt's brother, Courtney (Paul Schneider), whose wife just left him, and Courtney's daughter, Annabelle (Isabelle Moon Alexander). This all leads up to another great scene, which is a simple conversation between Burt and Verona, in fact, it is this scene and the last 10-15 minutes of the film that put it over the top into greatness.

The performances here are fantastic, especially from Krasinski and Rudolph. I had only ever seen Rudolph on SNL before and thought her acting to be rather two-dimensional. Her portrayal of Verona shows that she's much more than a comic actress. The supporting cast of eccentrics is a big part of what makes this film so good. It's comedy and drama mixed at the right proportions and should not be missed. 3.5/4 stars.

Last edited by Hal2001; 09-18-2009 at 02:58 PM..
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Old 09-19-2009, 05:34 PM
I enjoyed it for what it was. I thought it was a fun character-driven movie that dealt with several issues that audiences could relate to. John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph were great, and the several situations they found themselves in were enjoyable to watch to.

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Old 09-19-2009, 08:44 PM
Originally Posted by bigred760 View Post
I enjoyed it for what it was. I thought it was a fun character-driven movie that dealt with several issues that audiences could relate to. John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph were great, and the several situations they found themselves in were enjoyable to watch to.

Agreed. My main issue was simply that everyone else felt like a cypher for the main characters to bounce away from. Other than that, I enjoyed it.
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Old 10-15-2009, 06:07 PM

(Sam Mendes, 2009)

It's always great to see good directors develop and go in different directions. Just in the past few years, I've seen some of my favourite directors "evolve" and direct works that are quite uncharacteristic of their previously established styles, be it David Fincher with his emotional and romantic The Curious Case of Benjamin Button or Paul Thomas Anderson with his monumental character study There Will Be Blood. Sam Mendes, one of the most fascinating and talented directors working today, has so far delivered four very precise, calculated, ambitious and large-scale films, which is why it was interesting to discover that he of all directors was behind a quirky, lax, unhinged indie dramedy.

Actually, after watching the film, Mendes' style is quite noticeable. Although it's a very loose and small-scale human comedy, the film's aesthetic is still very formal, featuring symmetrical compositions and fluid camera movements. The lighting is top notch and in general it's an indie film that has a very high-quality look, clearly Mendes' stamp. Mendes is a very interesting director in that sense, because despite his being one of the most visually striking and prominent directors working today, with his last four films being among the most gorgeous-looking films in recent memory, his origins are on the stage, and that background is actually very prominent in this film.

Plot-wise, this film tells a story that we have all seen before – the road trip movie. Specifically, it's a film about unconfident people going out on the road in order to discover themselves. And yet, screenwriters (and novelists) Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida manage to craft unique and identifiable characters and through their journey create what is essentially a parable about relationships and self-discovery. The main couple is expertly played by John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph, who really play against type: Krasinski is known as the quiet and awkward Jim on The Office while in this film he is very confident, outgoing and funny; Rudolph, on the other hand, is known for her outrageous roles on Saturday Night Live while in this film she plays a more mellow and peaceful character. The story establishes a series of supporting characters who are also expertly played by a very impressive supporting cast; Maggie Gyllenhaal and Allison Janney particularly stand out as friends of Krasinski and Rudolph, respectively, who provide very opposite views about life and long-term relationships.

Ultimately, this is a fun, well-made, enjoyable, quirky little indie film; it's funny and charming and light-hearted while also delivering an interesting and thought-provoking parable about marriage, long-term relationships, life and the various approaches couples have to all those things. That said, I think that the film might even be too quirky and precious for its own good; these elements that often lead to such fantastic films as Little Miss Sunshine or Juno to get derided by the cynics don't often bother me, but in this film, I think that it's preciousness kind of takes away from the audience's connection with the characters. I can't quite put my finger on it, but all I know is that while the film is good, I felt a much stronger connection with the characters in another indie film from this year, (500) Days of Summer.

RATING: 7.5/10.
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