A woman leans in close to her man and wonders aloud with him whether their genuine love for each other is something strange and unnatural, or if the people they just met are what they will become. I couldn’t blame her, considering the grotesque couple they had just visited in Phoenix. But I was angry with Away We Go for not reassuring her in that moment that there were plenty of people out there like them. In fact, I was fairly hostile to this movie for most of the first 30 minutes or so I spent with it. But don’t stop reading.
This loving couple, Burt and Verona (John Krasinski of “The Office” and Maya Rudolph of “SNL“), have recently become pregnant. Upon learning that his parents, who live nearby, will be moving to Antwerp before their baby is born, they realize there’s nothing tying them down, and they consider where to live and raise their daughter. And so begins their quest across North America, visiting friends and family while shopping for a new life. Not only are they comparing the geographic merits of each city they visit, but also encountering a variety of examples of how not to raise a child. The aforementioned grotesque couple in Phoenix (Jim Gaffigan and Allison Janney) exemplify an extreme variety of laissez-faire parenting, with Janney openly swearing in front of her children, insisting it’s just “white noise” to them. Throughout this scene and the preceding dinner with Burt’s parents, Away We Go is about as artificial and self-consciously indie as they come, in love with its own cynically clever dialogue and squeaky acoustic guitar soundtrack. I had a similar reaction to the opening scenes of Juno, but just like in that film, the strong performances and the soberer later acts won me over. But, before the silliness departs the scene, it gets an admittedly spectacular climax when Burt and Verona meet LN-formerly known as Ellen (Maggie Gyllenhaal of Secretary)-a faux-feminist pseudo-hippie who has very strong convictions about motherhood, as well as her soft-spoken husband, who casually and hypocritically derides Burt’s existence in a capitalist society. The confrontation between the two couples over the merits of baby strollers culminates in the film’s best and most cathartic comedy.
From there, the film journeys into more somber and balanced territory, as our heroes fly away to Montreal and Miami to visit old college friends and Burt’s brother and niece, respectively. And it’s here that the script, penned by real married couple Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, finds its true footing. I might not have had much patience with director Sam Mendes‘ (American Beauty) obvious glee in trotting out hateful caricatures of American society early on, but in the end I was grateful that his film embraces that most common and undervalued of human qualities: uncertainty. –[DVD]
DVD Release Date: 9/29/09