AWAY WE GO (2009)
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Written by: Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida
Starring: John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Catherine O’Hara, Jeff Daniels, Allison Janney
There are specific ingredients that will make me fall in love with a movie. In Away We Go, its as if Sam Mendes read my diary in order to make for me that almost-too-good-to-be-true movie experience. I’m not saying it is a cinematic masterpiece. If you can manage to make it past the first purposefully-too-suggestive, too-awkward opening scene (unlike a sweet 60-yea-old man next to me who fled the theater), you may find yourself falling for this delightful dramedy.
So what’s the cinematic recipe to my heart? For starters, lovably flawed and lost people like the couple Burt and Verona, played by John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph. Expecting a baby and faced with the fact that they just may be “F***ups” without a true place to call home, they endeavor on a journey in search of where they can belong and start their family. Road movies in general have made me giddy ever since I saw Vacation, where it made prefect sense to risk everything to get to a theme park. I later hoped to one day find the “Thelma” to my “Louis” and road trip around the country… or, more correctly, escape from the law. Road movies heighten the all or nothing search inside of us for that one true thing we are all looking for. And for Burt and Verona it is a place where they truly belong. From planes to trains to automobiles (another great road movie right there), the lovers meet up with past friends and family to see if Arizona, Colorado, Montreal or Florida could be the perfect fit. On their journey of self-discovery, the audience discovers that, behind Burt’s quirky Casey Casem impressions and unabashed cluelessness, and Verona’s tragic past, these two were truly fortunate in finding each other. Despite what they don’t know about themselves or their future, their love is not dysfunctional. That is a breath of fresh air for a relationship movie.
Once you’ve gotten the right ingredients, it is important to mix it with a good soundtrack. Even when I think a story is ridiculous or impossible, you can still make me weep like a baby or get my heart pounding when the right song plays. More and more studios are catching onto this fact and are happily manipulating me to cry on a regular basis. Sam Mendes chose unknown Alexi Murdoch to orchestrate the emotional feel of the film with his more subtle melodic tone. It gives the movie that extra road trip ambiance of travel with an indie quirk that blends with the main characters. I may not have fallen to my knees at every scene, but, by the end of the film, I realized that I had not only taken a journey with these people, but with Murdoch, who was singing us home.
But of course it can’t be all hugs and kisses. The movie would just be boring. Burt and Verona must, in fact, find the place they belong, and, as we all know from real life, it can be painful and heartbreaking. Each place they venture holds an ensemble of characters with impressive actors behind each one. Chris Messina and Melanie Lynskey beautifully play a happy couple with a secret. Jeff Daniels and Catherine O’Hara have fun in the roles of Burt’s peculiar parents. Well-knowns Maggie Gyllennhaal and Allison Janney play characters that, though entertaining, seem too outrageous to be authentic. They become such foils to Burt and Verona that you don’t understand how they ever co-existed. These obstacles seem almost forced and you could probably guess right away where these two need to go. Yet I can’t fault Sam Mendes for not making Away We Go the soul mate of my movie love. He had losers, he had the open road, and he had heartstring melodies that made writers’ Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida’s well-versed screenplay come to life. And most importantly he had that connection you want with characters that at the end of the movie you feel you’ve traveled with them and I was sad to see Burt and Verona go. It’s true our heart wants what it wants and mine was happily filled in Away We Go but we also want that unexpected surprise not written in our diaries and Sam Mendes stuck more to the key I’ve seen in many indie films before.