This is, to date, the most easygoing Sam Mendes film I have seen. It’s a gentle, wryly amusing character piece focusing on the relationship between Burt (John Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph). It’s about as far from the domestic unhappiness of American Beauty or the action packed adventures of Skyfall and Spectre as you could imagine. As a result, I quite enjoyed it.
Both Krasinski and Rudolph put in superb yet understated performances, a perfectly balanced couple who are unsure what the imminent birth of their first child will do to their lives. So after receiving some mildly bad news (it’s not a death!), they head off on a trip to discover where they should raise their child.
In this instance the journey starts as an attempt to find out where they want to live. As they travel from place to place it becomes clear that it’s more about them as parents, the emotional destination rather than the physical one. Each encounter adds a piece to the puzzle and gently leads them both on their journey towards parenthood.
That journey takes in a broad spectrum of thematic content that you may or may not find difficult to believe in the real world. Infertility, infidelity, divorce, absent parents, and almost blatant disregard for children.
The cast list is impressive, even if most of them show up for a couple of scenes apiece. I wanted more of Jeff Daniels and Catherine O’Hara, mostly because they are both great in pretty much everything they do. Their brief scene at the dining table is enough though. Something is better than nothing after all.
The same can be said for Allison Janney and Jim Gaffigan as parents who carry on with their lives almost as if their children aren’t present. Most of my chuckles came from their also too-brief appearance, even if Janney’s approach to the character is at times unnecessarily brash and abrasive. You can almost feel sympathy for Gaffigan’s character, and understand why Verona lost touch with her all those years ago. There’s only so much of that one can endure before snapping. It’s ironic that the scenes and dialogue I enjoyed more featured the most irritating character. Go figure.
I think of this as a companion piece to another film I have seen recently, Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers. Both movies feature characters going on a road trip. Both have characters reconnecting with their past. Both have character learning about themselves. To borrow a Star Wars phrase, the allegory is strong with this one.
Road trip movies tend to live or die on their thematic content, performances, locations or a combination of the three. Without it you end up with the same old story being retold from a slightly different perspective. The expanding list of characters can start to annoy as the only thing moving forward is the vehicle they are travelling in. The good news is that Away We Go doesn’t fall into this trap. Yes, it’s essentially a sequence of disparate scenes relying on Burt and Verona for consistency, but it works. And unlike some other films in this genre, the journey with both of these people is a delight. Well worth seeking out if you want to see a lighter side to Sam Mendes’ work.