Sam Mendes has made a career out of elevating bad scripts, and Away We Go certainly extends that streak. His instincts to create appropriate visual texture and pacing are his strengths, his ability with actors less so (a long background in theater still adversely affects his approach to performances on the screen), and he seems virtually tone-deaf toward how to guide a script to the full potential of its premise (slavishly adhering to the text as one would in theater rather than molding the elements until it all rings true).  Simply put, he understands cinematic language but not cinematic realism.

One could even suspect that Mendes gets an odd thrill in making bad material better than it is; here, the script feels like an over-the-top studio rom-com with the infamous legacy of a disposable rental.  Such an assumption would be giving him too much credit, though.  Indeed, even regarding his aesthetic strengths, Mendes largely relies on a hipster acoustic soundtrack from new folk artist Alexi Murdoch to set the proper indie-tone. It's a superb stroke of smoke-and-mirrors, but don't be fooled—it's the music creating whatever emotional pull you feel here, not the actual core elements of story, character or theme.

As the wayward couple-cum-parents, Maya Rudolph is more impressive than John Krazinski (who seems stuck in the play-the-joke rut common to TV actors).  Rudolph isn't entirely successful, either (and with what she's saddled with, who could be?), but she wisely underplays the clichéd emotional basket case Verona is written to be.  And compared to the broad, hapless caricatures that comprise the supporting cast (despite the impressive ensemble), she's virtually in Method-mode. In that sense, Rudolph is a revelation simply waiting for the proper "prophetic" material.

Nothing more than a sequential collection of contrivances, the trajectory of the narrative is predictable, ham-fisted, and occasionally offensive (both morally and intellectually).  Other elements—such as Verona's adamant objection to marriage despite the joint declarations of love and desire for a large family—simply make no sense.  Scripted platitudes, exchanges, revelations, and one climactic monologue short-change any notion of complexity, making growth metered-out plot-points rather than ongoing character development. 

Away We Go does tap into some emotional truths, but there's nothing authentic about its practical reality.  Even the final destination is an enormous cheat.  Normal people—ANY people—don't reach epiphanies this way, or this easily, in real life; only in The Movies.  For one that's about lives changed, it's ironic that this film won't change the lives of anyone who watches it.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content:  Alcohol is occasionally consumed, with instances of mild inebriation. 
  • Language/Profanity:  Full range of profanities used, even in the presence of children, including crass sexual references (lewd comments as well as the "V" word for the female genitalia on more than one occasion, and other frank descriptions of genitals) and the LORD'S name used in vain. 
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:  The aforementioned lewd/sexual dialogue, which is used throughout (though not constantly).  Husband performs oral sex with wife under the covers.  A mom breast-feeds toddlers.  A couple discusses how their entire family sleeps together, and that the couple has sex while the children are in bed.  A painting of female genitalia is seen.  A woman performs a provocative pole dance, but remains clothed.
  • Violence/Other:  Only momentary emotional clashes that involve heated confrontations.

 
Jeffrey Huston is a film director, writer and producer at Steelehouse Productions in Tulsa, Okla.  He is also cohost of "Steelehouse Podcast," along with Steelehouse Executive Creative Mark Steele, where each week they discuss God in pop culture. 

To listen to the weekly podcast, please visit www.steelehouse.com or click here.  You can also subscribe to "Steelehouse Podcast" through iTunes.