Thursday, July 9, 2009

Away We Go

"We're Completely Untethered, Burt!"

Burt Farlander (John Krasinski) and Verona de Tessant (Maya Rudolph) are two professionals in their mid-30's living in a single-wide in the woods—he sells insurance futures, she illustrates medical texts—he wants to get married and she doesn't; they're having a baby. That almost changes everything. They go and break the happy news to his parents (Catherine O'Hara and Jeff Daniels) who have suddenly decided to live in Belgium a month before the baby is due.

That changes everything. Because without grand-parental responsibilities*, Burt and Verona can live anywhere in the world with their kid, near anyone they want to. And so begins an Odyssey of sorts to find the perfect place to be a family.

"Away We Go" is a bit of a deceptive title. There are several ways they can go, and the film boils down to episodes where they can look on with horror at possible futures.

1. "Away to Phoenix:" they visit Verona's former editor (
an hysterical Allison Janney) and her family; the kids are off-world zombies, paid no heed by the parents who are crass alcoholics with no life.

2. "Away to Tucson:" they visit Verona's sister (
Carmen Ejogo), who works at a resort, attachment-proof, and has the impropriety to bring up Mom and Dad to Verona.

3. "Away to Madison:"
they visit an "aunt" LN (Maggie Gyllenhaal), whose life-style is healthy, pretentious and stifling—"No separation, no sugar, no strollers" (sure, it sounds good, but in practice it's a fascist nightmare)

4. "Away to Montreal:" they visit college friends (
Chris Messina and Melanie Lynskey) who have an adopted, well-adapted multi-cultural family for whom the parents are caring and giving but conceal a secret pain.

5. "Away to Miami:" Burt's brother (
Paul Schneider) has an emergency—his wife has left him, leaving the care of his young daughter solely to him, which terrifies him.

The scenario's veer from the uproarious to the melancholy, each one holding up a mirror to Burt and Verona about nightmare scenarios that could conceivably be their future. The laughs are plentiful, pierced occassionally by sadness. Sure, it's a
Sam Mendes film ("American Beauty," "Road to Perdition," "Revolutionary Road"), but it's the first time Mendes has directed out and out comedy—you can't expect him to go completely slapstick after those studies in tragedy.

But, it's the sweetness you remember—
Mendes is the most heavy-handed of directors to the point of oppression (and he still can't go a whole movie without his cold null-center compositions), but "Away We Go" breathes a bit with the light touch that consummate ad-libbers Krasinski and Rudolph bring to the playing. The other characters verge into caricature (with O'Hara and Daniels together, how can it not?), but Mendes' two stars have quicksilver abilities to exploit the comedy in potentially sticky situations. Krasinski's man-boy who likes to play grown-up is a perfect match for him, and Rudolph is one of the few SNL alum's who can sustain an entire character for an entire movie. It's a trifle, but it's the first movie the director has made that makes you want to order a bullet chaser with your popcorn.

"Away We Go" is a Matinee.

* "It's not like your parents are doing anything," Burt deflects Verona. "My parents are dead," she reminds him. (pause) "Still..," he starts to argue.

1 comment:

John said...

Olaiya and I enjoyed this film very much... despite the uneasy feeling we had that we were the EXACT target audience demographic. Glad to know someone older and wiser also found it charming.