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  Away We Go

Starring: John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Allison Janney, Maggie Gyllenhaal

Directed by: Sam Mendes

Produced by: Todd Phillips, Dan Goldberg

Written by: Dave Eggers, Vendela Vida

Distributor: Focus Features

     Sam Mendes’ Away We Go manages to infuse the worst two types of American indies—an empty, but contemplatively-styled mumblecore and a forcibly quirky “charmer” designed with mainstream cross-over potential—into a single movie. As it meanders along, viewers are often reminded that they’re confronting real emotions in the presence of authentic characters, but this is all smoke and mirrors on Mendes’ part. If one doesn’t fall victim to the movie’s pressures and come to accept it as beyond one’s intelligence, one will see it for the annoying, emo drivel it really is.

     At its core, this is essentially a travelogue, only none of the places featured are inviting. In fact, Away We Go is the unsubstantiated assault on American suburbia that so many mistakenly said Mendes more constructive and better constructed Revolutionary Road was. Aimless young couple Burt Farlander (John Krasinski) and Verona De Tessant (Maya Rudolph) wander around the United States looking for a place to raise their soon-to-be born child, only to find that most of the prospects are depressing let-downs. They meet up with old friends who have become ugly representations of every stereotype of Americana, from the white-trash mother who treats her kids as objects (Allison Janney) to the aloof liberal who breastfeeds her 6-year-old and shares a bed with the entire family (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Furthermore, Verona always nags Burt for conforming to the role of American Macho Dude to keep his insurance clients happy. In fact, things only start to look up when they leave the country for Montreal. If that’s not subliminal message-making on Mendes’ part, I don’t know what is. It’s an unwarranted attack.

     I might be more eager to welcome the annoying people and settings that flesh out Away We Go if they were portrayed as manifestations of Burt and Verona’s unhealthy emotional isolation from the rest of the world. But Mendes does not depict these characters critically. He treats them sympathetically throughout, making it hard for the viewer not so see the duo’s surroundings as a rational perception of the only two characters that are meant to be likable. As such, it is implied that the rest of America is a bunch of wacked-out independent-film caricatures, a cliché and uninteresting assertion to say the least. Then again, it’s possible that the mumbling, bumbling couple were just poorly conceived by screenwriters Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida and, as a result, the emotional complexities that would have made Away We Go a much better and less culturally-critical movie were already absent at the onset.

     Whether the writing was the main culprit in the film’s lack of success is debatable, but it certainly does Mendes and the cast no favors. These characters do a lot of apathetic emoting—an all-too-accurate paradoxical description—in much the way bad “indie” mouthpieces tend to, but they don’t come across as humans. They are that way precisely because writers Eggers and Vida try so hard to humanize them, with random dialogue and awkward silences that practically scream out “Look! I’m mimicking the natural flow of life!” But this tactic is transparent and ultimately comes off for exactly what it is: bullshit artifice that only the saps who cry at Julia Roberts rom-coms will consider enlightened and touching. In fact, I’m not even sure what to make of the performances by leads Krasinski and Rudolph. Burt and Verona are so sparse and unlikable on paper that these could be remarkable performances given the requirements, for all I know. I suppose I can at least criticize them for choosing to participate in the project.

     Away We Go may put up a good fight in trying to convince the viewer it’s actually profound, with beautiful cinematography from veteran Ellen Kuras and a great soundtrack. But when one steps back and considers even these two elements, Away We Go ultimately seems like a poorer than poor man’s Garden State. Self-importantly moping its way to a “crowd-pleasing” conclusion that has all the subtlety of a chainsaw to the face, this is a movie that’s bogus in terms of emotion, theme, and narrative. It doesn’t get much worse than that for the moviegoer.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 6.14.2009

Screened on: 6.9.2009 at the Landmark Hillcrest Cinemas in San Diego, CA.


Away We Go is rated R and runs 97 minutes.

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