I have always been a middle-of-the-road kind of guy when it comes to the work of director Sam Mendes. While many lavish praise on both American Beauty and Road to Perdition I was always turned cold by both pictures (although I haven’t seen either in quite some time). Away We Go has a little more life to it and deviates from Mendes’ traditional darker tone, delivering more in an American indie kind of fashion. As a matter of fact, when it comes to the more moodier tone Mendes brings to his films, Away We Go could come off as sickly sweet, or even trite, to anyone expecting more of the same. And while I am willing to admit the film has its flaws, I believe they are only minor bumps in the road when looked at as a whole.
Penned by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, Away We Go centers on Burt Farlander (John Krasinski) and Verona De Tessant (Maya Rudolph), a young couple who just learned they are expecting their first child. As circumstances would have it, the two find themselves traveling across North America, looking for a suitable place to live and begin raising their newborn. Each stop along the way introduces us to new faces including run-ins with old friends, family and a few unsavory types the couple hopes to never see again. The mixture of characters brings sentiment, comedy and some of life’s darker realizations to the forefront, and while not all of it is perfect, it is all perfectly entertaining.
Lily (Allison Janney), Verona’s former co-worker, and her husband (Jim Gaffigan) mark the couple’s first stop. The verbal assault that is Lily sets an interesting tone for the film, painting the perfect picture of a family I hope to never meet; with Lily as the vulgar figurehead that describes dysfunctional. A trip to meet one of Burt’s childhood friends (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal) touches on a similar tone and really should have been cut from the film, tightening up some manner of redundancy by removing the one part of the film I felt really brought the story to a screeching halt for about 10 minutes. The couple’s visit to Montreal and Miami bring more grounding experiences, counter-balancing the insanity that preceded and making sure the film doesn’t venture too far into whacky territory, which is where the two leads give the film some stability.
Krasinski is best known for his work on the NBC sitcom “The Office” as Jim Halpert and Rudolph is a ten-year “Saturday Night Live” veteran. Neither has proven to have much feature film appeal, but both work well here, with Rudolph especially standing out in a way “SNL” doesn’t call for. I’m not sure what Mendes saw in Rudolph to help him realize she was the one for the job, but he got this one right. She brings a fantastic mixture of comedic timing and dramatic talent, allowing her to bring far more to the story than I would have expected she could manage.
Overall, Away We Go is a perfectly entertaining film that may in fact be my favorite from the Sam Mendes collection, but as I noted earlier he has never really moved me all that much (except Jarhead, which I loved). This isn’t the quirky, bouncy teen angst indie comedy we have seen so much of lately, and may in fact be best served to a thirty-something audience and couples just beginning to start a family of their own. For as much as the film has been painted into that indie-comedy corner it does deal with some real life issues that may have been lost on audiences expecting something entirely different.