Away We Go: A Rare Indie Comedy Full Of Warmth and Love
Sam Mendes’ new film, Away We Go, is such a pleasant indie comedy– think Garden State minus the suicidal tendencies– that it happily skips over its disjointed structure and wacky supporting characters that skirt close to sitcom-level dimension to their lunacy. Many indie comedies have dry, witty main characters, but it’s difficult to conjure up in recent memory a film whose main characters are nice, love each other, and keep their spirits high in the face of adversity. It seems to be a lot easier for most indie writers to find the secret pain of supposedly happy people, rather than finding that which makes truly happy people happy. Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida have written a sprawling screenplay that ranges from sitcom to melodrama to actual insightful witty commentary– but most importantly, it remains loving, pleasant, and personal the entire time and will undoubtedly leave you with a smile.
Burt (John Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph) are a 30-something couple living in Colorado close to Burt’s parents (Catherine O’Hara and Jeff Daniels), when exciting news arrives– Verona is pregnant. In a stroke of particularly awful timing, Burt’s parents announce three months before the child’s delivery that they will finally be moving to Antwerp, a trip years in the planning finally coming to fruition. This leads to Burt and Verona doing some soulsearching. They live in Colorado with very little to their name, and if Burt’s parents aren’t around, why not uproot and live somewhere else? They take a trip across the continent, looking for places near people they know, including trips to Phoenix, Tucson, Madison, Montreal, and Miami, encountering psychotic former co-workers (Allison Janney and Jim Gaffigan), hippie family friends (Maggie Gyllenhaal), and siblings (Carmen Ejogo and Paul Schneider), among others. As they travel, they try to find the location where they can most successfully raise their child with love and happiness, all the while hoping they can avoid being the unhappy losers they come across.
This may sound like an idealist, perhaps elitist plotline– a smart witty couple runs into kooky friends and family, witnesses their unhappy or misguided lives, and moves on. It never feels that way. Eggers and Vida’s script is warm and inviting, and while at times the wacky people they’re visiting feel a bit manufactured from the school of Indie Film Quirky Supporting Characters, they rarely see their hosts as inferior. They instead are making a mental list of the various American families one can become nowadays, and the inhibitions preventing their future child’s happiness. Whether those relationships they witness are well-intentioned or blissfully ignorant or secretly depressed under the surface, they are a potpourri of the ways in which a child can be given a less than perfect upbringing. Burt and Verona are the All-American Family: not wealthy, not settled, full of hope and promise, and living on little other than love. Whether or not we succeed, we all strive to have the type of cool reasoning and depth of emotion these two characters live by.
John Krasinski, in his first lead role, is fantastic as Burt. He uses that delivery he’s honed as Jim on The Office, where he is certainly emotionally attached but too cool to show any deep feelings past earnestness. He could easily become an indie film star, with his ironic demeanor and romantic charm– a hunky, warmer Zach Braff. Maya Rudolph has the trickier role as Verona, and handles her capably. The majority of the film focuses on Verona’s emotional journey, but perhaps due to the dueling screenwriters, the focus shifts on occasion. Still, Verona’s emergence throughout the film, as she slowly stops letting fear dictate her emotions, is heartwarming; Burt’s transition is less complete, though shades of real concern for his unborn daughter peek out from the jokey exterior in key spots. The supporting characters are a bit more one-dimensional though amusingly performed by the reliable actors, although special mention must be made of Chris Messina and Melanie Lynskey (better known as Rose on the sitcom Two And A Half Men) for their affecting performances as a couple who have been blessed with many successes… except for the five miscarriages they’ve suffered through. In the end, the script is the real star, leading its actors through a journey filled with warmth, pleasantness, and that human emotion rarely captured in independent cinema– intelligent, uncynical love.