Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Away We Go

Sam Mendes, after a heavy duty quadrilogy including American Beauty and Jarhead, clearly enjoys the change of pace in Away We Go, the breezy story of two prospective parents journeying around the US of A in search of the family they most want to emulate (as well as those they want to avoid becoming, at all costs), and a new home.

John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph (sharing natural, earthy chemistry) star as unmarried devotees in love Burt and Verona. First captured in situ in a sexually frank yet affectionate moment (the warm tone of which comes to sum up the movie), Burt claims Verona 'tastes different' (and by implication, is pregnant).

Thus begins a journey laced with equal parts difficulty and epiphany, as the inexperienced couple uproot from their rudimentary home in the woods to discover what it takes to bring up a child successfully. After their horror at discovering Burt's parents plan to emigrate to Belgium, the committment to their unborn child only intensifies through reunions both grotesque (Allison Janney's hideous Florida-based former acquaintance, Maggie Gyllenhaal's deluded new age wackjob) and life-affirming (Chris Messina's relationship surviving through personal difficulties).

Unfortunately, as the film progresses, what also goes away (besides Burt and Verona's sense of stability) is that sense of effervescence crucial to any wannabe indie comedy these days. Mendes' film wants to be Little Miss Sunshine but instead the sunshine is filtered and diluted, as if the director can't quite let go of the incisive social realism he has previously demonstrated so eloquently.

The grainy quasi-real photography certainly doesn't help, aping a genuine story of real people in dire straits yet sitting uneasily alongside clunkier comic moments (Maggie Gyllenhaal's forced 'free love' caricature). The convoluted shoehorning in of Verona's family history towards the climax also smacks of deus ex machina.

It's a movie in two minds about what it wants to be, although this isn't to negate all of its strengths. Krasinski in particular demonstrates effortless leading man chops as the endlessly likeable and decent Burt, who will surely become a cinematic father rolemodel in years to come. His tearjerking trampoline-based confession of feelings and kindness will warm the hearts of any impending parents and offer them palpable hope as they welcome life into the world.

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