Thursday, July 2, 2009

Review: Away We Go, Far From Lester Burnham

In most cinematic love stories, there exists a sort of dichotomy.On the one hand, there are the mass produced rom-coms that begin with conflict and end with sugary sweet bliss.On the other, there are the dramas, indies, and melodramas, in which people in love are pitted against tremendous obstacles. If they’re foolish enough to think, for an instant, that they can be happy together, they will almost inevitably find themselves mistaken. That’s Hollywood for you.You’re either pursuing love, falling into it, or falling out of it. You’re either a happy couple at the conclusion, or a happy couple at the outset waiting to be miserable. There’s no room for a movie about people who love each other who stay in love without complications, until now.

Away We Go is a nice movie about nice folks spawned from a surprising collaboration. Director Sam Mendes, famous for providing viewers with bleak views of family existence in suburbia through films like American Beauty and last year’s Revolutionary Road, eschews his typical subject matter to tell a tale penned by the unbearably hipsterific pairing of husband and wife Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida. If you’re unfamiliar with the two of them, Google that, and know that the San Francisco chronicle called them the “literary equivalent of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie”. Together, they form a super team that sounds like the wet dream of your average dorm dwelling liberal arts student (or wait, is that Eggers + Jonze, or Fincher? Or Anderson?), but have no fear, average citizens! It’s actually not that pretentious.

Instead, it’s a down to earth human interest story. Honestly! Believe me! And really, it feels pretty good. Away We Go is the tale of ­­­­Verona (SNL alum Maya Rudolph) and Burt (The Office’s John Krasinski), two long-term love birds happily on the verge of starting a family. Verona’s knocked up, Burt can’t wait. Realizing their tiny home is falling apart and their link to family is disintegrating, they find themselves on a cross country quest for connection and a place of their own. Along the way they check in with others. Siblings, college friends, old colleagues, faux-cousins, people who are unhappy, people who live with strange convictions and neurosis, the usual suspects we all have: those who we can think of fondly until they're right in front of us saying they don't believe in strollers. The supporting cast (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jeff Daniels, Catherine O'Hara, Allison Janney, Jim Gaffigan, among others) shines in their individual roles, but remain firmly within the orbit of Krasinski and Rudolph's central pairing. Burt & Verona are a couple in love, they remain in love while encountering all the examples of the people they don't want to become.
If it sounds sickening, it's only in the retelling. The film is beautifully and carefully paced, and dosed with a serious amount of straightforward humor and honesty. It's easy to call the story sweet and hopeful at the end of the day, but those aren't necessarily the words that jump to mind while you're watching it unfold. Away We Go is never cloying in its approach, and Krasinski and Rudolph break away from their television personas just enough to become wholly likable, separate entities. They turn in decent, understated performances that make their situation easy to believe. And let's face it, sometimes it's great to watch a movie about people who seem totally normal. With all the other summer fare threatening to dull your senses, this feels like a welcome breath of fresh air. Treat it like a walk through an air conditioned park, and just go with it. The film has been slowly adding to its limited release, catch it before Harry Potter and Bruno blow it out of theaters everywhere.
4 out of 5.

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