Review: Away We Go
Plot: A young couple (John Krasinski & Maya Rudolph) expecting their first child, go on a road trip in order to find the perfect place to start a family.
Review: AWAY WE GO is quite the change of pace for director Sam Mendes. Considering that the closest hes ever come to making a comedy was his Gulf War film, JARHEAD, I wouldnt have thought Mendes was the ideal choice to make a light, coming of age flick in the vein of GARDEN STATE. Sure enough though, Mendes, along with first time screenwriters David Eggers (author of A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS) & Vendela Vida have done just that, proving that Mendes is a lot more versatile than I thought.
Probably the best way to describe AWAY WE GO is to call it a pleasant film. Both Krasinski, and Rudolph are exceedingly likable in their roles, which is probably the most important thing in a film like this, as theyre never off-screen. Ive always been a fan of both actors, and its nice to see them headlining a film with such a fine pedigree. They have a nice, easy-going chemistry, and you care about the characters right from the get-go. Writers Eggers, and Vida are actually married in real life, and Id be willing to bet that they brought a lot of their own relationship to the characters, and as a result, their relationship always seems real, and not phony in a typically Hollywood way.
However, while the two leads seem credible and real, that does not go for most of the supporting characters- who are essentially walking clichés, or cartoon characters. As Krasinskis parents, Jeff Daniels, and Catherine OHara are pretty loopy, seeming at times like they belong in a Christopher Guest film. Allison Janney turns up as one of Rudolphs old colleagues, but shes such a bat-shit crazy character that I doubt someone like Rudolphs character would ever give this person the time of day, much less consider moving across the country to be near them.
Craziest of all is Maggie Gyllenhaal, as a former childhood friend of Krasinskis, who, along with her house-husband Josh Hamiton, has turned into an insane New Ager that breastfeeds her five year son, and thinks strollers are the source of all modern alienation. Still, as loopy as she, and Hamilton are, I laughed my ass off every time they were onscreen, so I probably shouldnt complain too much. Of the supporting cast, the only actor that really had an effect on me was Paul Schneider- one of my favorite character actors (brilliant in David Gordon Greens ALL THE REAL GIRLS), who plays Krasinskis brother, a newly single dad trying to adjust to life as a single parent. The sequence where he talks about how not having a mother will affect his daughter is quite moving, and one of the best scenes in the film.
My next criticism with the film is somewhat personal, and will probably not affect the majority of viewers. Eventually, the couple makes their way to Montréal, Canada- which the film paints as just short of paradise. As a life long Montrealer, I must admit, Montréal is one hell of a city, but not the paradise for expatriate Americans its portrayed as. For one thing- Montréal, while mostly bilingual, is still a fairly French city. Unless they happen to be bilingual, Montreal is probably not the idea place for a young American couple to settle in (theres also immigration to deal with- which no one mentions). Obviously, the filmmakers did not actually get to shoot in Montréal, but the way its portrayed, I have my doubts that anyone involved with the film has ever actually been here. I know, I know, its a movie- who cares? But still, it would have been nice if some effort had been made to capture the flavor of the city a little better, as its more than Jazz bars and terraces (although they did work in a reference to poutine- which, for the uninitiated is a bowl of French fries with gravy, and cheese, and is something of a cultural phenomenon up here).
Still, most of my problems with the film are relatively minor. Overall, I really enjoyed AWAY WE GO, and its a nice change of pace for Mendes. While at times the film goes a bit overboard in the whimsy department (a sing a-long to THE SOUND OF MUSIC was so saccharine I think it gave me a cavity, and the song score by Alexi Murdoch is a tad maudlin), it's a very good film, and a nice bit of counter-programming for folks that might be suffering from a bit of Blockbuster fatigue.
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