Away We Go
October 5, 2009
After the intense drama of Revolutionary Road (2008), one could hardly blame director Sam Mendes for opting to switch gears for decidedly lighter fare with his next film Away We Go (2009). After the soul-crushing dysfunction and overwhelming feeling of claustrophobia, he decided to open things up with a road movie as a young couple travels across the United States, visiting friends and family.
Burt (Krasinski) and Verona (Rudolph) are expecting their first child. They have dinner with his parents (Daniels and O’Hara) who inform their son and his girlfriend that they plan to move to Belgium a month before Verona is to give birth. Burt and Verona are shocked and upset to say the least as they were expecting to rely on his parents for support once their child was born. With no real reason to stay where they are, Burt and Verona decide to move as well. So, they go on the road and look for a new home.
The first stop is Phoenix, Arizona where a friend (Janney) of Verona’s from when she used to work in Chicago lives. However, she’s obnoxious and puts down her kids right in front of them – in short, a horrible person. Next, they visit Verona’s sister who seems nice enough but has unresolved issues about their deceased parents. Burt and Verona go to Madison, Wisconsin to meet a childhood friend of his. She’s a college professor (Gyllenhaal) and when they first meet her she’s breastfeeding both of her children, one of whom is clearly past the age where that’s appropriate.
Away We Go depicts a dysfunctional vision of family. Almost everyone Burt and Verona encounters are messed up one way or the other. The parents are either uncomfortably close to their children or alarmingly dismissive of their kids. Even Burt’s parents are insensitive idiots. Mendes plays all of this for laughs which is kind of disturbing because these people are horrible. Thankfully, Burt and Verona remain likable as they take all of this in stride. In fact, all of the terrible people they meet only brings them closer together.
Burt and Verona trust each other and communicate well. One gets the impression that they’ll make good parents. They certainly can’t be any worse than the ones they’ve already encountered. Away We Go is anchored by solid performances by John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph. They have excellent chemistry together and are believable as impending parents who are scared of what the future might bring.
Away We Go takes an intriguingly poignant turn when Burt and Verona visit old college friends (Messina and Lynskey) in Montreal. They seem like ideal parents but underneath their hip, confident facade lies a bedrock of tragedy. The film gives us plenty examples of awful parents and, as a result, comes across mostly as a cautionary tale. Fortunately, Burt and Verona take something away from their journey and by the film’s end have found what they were looking for and, in the process, grow up a little. One gets the feeling that by the film’s conclusion they are finally ready to be parents.
“The Making of Away We Go” is a standard promotional featurette. Mendes, Krasinski and Rudolph talk briefly about what drew them to the project. The actors liked the familiar shorthand between their characters. Mendes liked what he saw as the positive energy of the story and the two main characters. Everyone praises each other in this often fluffy love-in.
“Green Filmmaking” takes a look at how this production was environmentally-friendly. Experts came in to supervise making the production less wasteful. Hopefully, other Hollywood productions will follow their lead.
Finally, there is an audio commentary by director Sam Mendes and screenwriters Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida. The screenplay was inspired by the anticipation of Eggers and Vida having their first child together back in 2005. The three participants talk about the tone of the film and juggling the comedy with the drama. Mendes talks about the look of the film and how he tried to evoke the films of Hal Ashby. The screenwriters say that they wrote Burt and Verona with Krasinski and Rudolph in mind. This is a decent, chatty track as the participants speak intelligently about various aspects of the film.