Away We Go Makes for a Superficial, Absurd Concoction
- Friday, June 26, 2009
DVD Release Date: September 29, 2009
Theatrical Release Date: June 26, 2009
Rating: R (for strong language and sexual situations)
Run Time: 98 min.
Directors: Sam Mendes
Cast: Maya Rudolph, John Krazinski, Jeff Daniels, Catherine O'Hara, Allison Janney, Jim Gaffigan, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Josh Hamilton
Author Dave Eggers established the publishing craze for tragi-comic memoirs with his Pulitzer Prize winning book, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Unfortunately, only the first half of that title could be used to describe his debut screenplay—not for its emotional resonance but rather its ineffectiveness.
Written along with his wife Vendela Via, this story of first-time parents looking for a place to call home delivers the surface style Eggers is known for-quirky characters, snarky dialogue, with a melancholic bent—but lacks the depth that made him a literary icon. Certainly the execution by director Sam Mendes (Revolutionary Road, Road to Perdition, American Beauty) bears part of the burden, and while his guidance is certainly found wanting, the mood Mendes sets largely masks what is a surprisingly superficial and downright absurd concoction.
Unmarried, in their early 30s and living in a glorified shack out in the country, Burt Farlander and Verona De Tessant (John Krasinski of The Office and Saturday Night Live alum Maya Rudolph) are expecting their first child together. The combination of a humble social status and impending parenthood has left them feeling like failures. They long for a fresh start and possibly even a move, not only to create a healthy home environment for their child (and hopefully brood of children) but to also be good examples worth aspiring to.
As Verona approaches the end of her second trimester, the couple decides to go on a cross-country journey in search of the perfect city, community and home to plant their roots—to find the place that truly fits them. The guiding structure for their travels is to visit various cities where friends and family have found happiness, with the hope of discovering that one place meant just for them.
This premise certainly holds the promise of exploring something substantial, so it's a letdown to discover how Eggers, Via and Mendes reduce everything to the situational. Each couple they visit—beginning with Burt's hometown parents, then Verona's friend in Phoenix, and on and on—is exponentially bizarre. They are real-life cartoons played for gags and laughs that have no orientation in reality. With the exception of Verona's sister, each stop gets weirder and weirder (including a mother who still breast-feeds her toddlers, and that's not the worst thing she does) to the point you have to wonder how any of these people—who turn off and even repulse Burt and Verona—were friends to begin with. The script is so lazily focused on its too-clever-by-half eccentricities that it exercises no effort to make it believable.
The problem is that it wants us to believe. It wants us to buy into this journey, emotionally invest in this couple (and their struggle between a disaffected present and dreams for a future) and be moved by it all, but it feebly provides only standard moments of yearning tagged on the end of each outlandish episode—and even those earnestly tender scenes often hinge on generic angst we've seen before (Verona's self-conscious to how fat she's becoming, they worry if they'll be good parents or not, et al.).
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