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Overall Rating
4.24

Awesome: 32%
Worth A Look60%
Just Average: 8%
Pretty Crappy: 0%
Sucks: 0%

3 reviews, 7 user ratings


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Away We Go
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by Erik Childress

"Eggers and Vida Complete Us"
5 stars

Sam Mendes has had a streaky record since his Oscar-winning debut with American Beauty ten years ago. His follow-up, Road To Perdition, softened the violence and many of the overtly religious themes from the graphic novel. Jarhead took us back into the first Iraq skirmish at a time when Americans where waist deep in the current crisis and it seemed to miss the mark of both when there were so many targets to hit. Just this past awards season, Revolutionary Road, was considered to be a major player until many saw it and recognized many of the nuances of Richard Yates’ seminal 1961 novel get lost amidst some genuinely strong performances by Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet and nominee, Michael Shannon. In a quick turnaround from the three years in-between projects, Mendes has embarked upon Away We Go featuring the debut screenplay from husband-and-wife duo of Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, who have given the filmmaker quite the gift in just one of the many pieces that make this one of the best films of 2009.

Burt (John Krasinski) and girlfriend, Verona (Maya Rudolph) have just discovered they are pregnant – in a manner that gives new meaning to the term “taste test.” They don’t have a lot of money and live in a home with bad wiring and even less heat, but they are in love even if Verona doesn’t “see the point” in marriage. Burt’s parents (Jeff Daniels & Catherine O’Hara) are an affluent pair who likes them to notice their expensive trinkets and is planning their dream European trip just a month before the baby is born. They offer the couple to stay in their home for the two years they’re gone, but that goes by the wayside once a better offer comes in.Wanting to give their child (and themselves) the best chance in this world, Burt and Verona decide to take a road trip visiting their closest friends and family to find their ideal home.

Their first stop is at the doorstep of Verona’s ex-boss, Lily (Alison Janney), a live wire whose vulgar energy is antithetical,by her dour husband, Lowell (Jim Gaffigan). With kids who don’t listen or meet Lily’s expectations and a marriage that has turned Lowell into a boozing, global pessimist – it’s clear Burt & Verona have some further exploring to do. Next up come the relatives including Verona’s sister (Carmen Ejogo) who reminds her how lucky she is and Burt’s cousin, Ellen (now “LN”) (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who has turned her life over to the new age stylings of raising a family with husband Roderick (Josh Hamilton) that includes abnormal breast feeding, open expressions of lovemaking and a strict no stroller policy. (“Why would I want to push my babies AWAY from me?”) Their final planned stop takes them to Montreal with old college friends, Tom & Munch (Chris Messina & Melanie Lynskey), who appear to have it all including a loving marriage and a bevy of adopted children. Yet even with everything they’ve done right and all that they have going, have to live with an unfair hand dealt to them by nature.

It all sounds like the usual mixed bag of ultra-quirkiness and on-the-nose melodrama, but Away We Go turns out to be anything but. Comparisons are inevitable to Juno for its dead-on, sometimes shockingly funny line readings and there’s a certain ring to Away We Go starting from the perspective of Jason Bateman & Jennifer Garner’s characters taking a road trip of discovery akin to Ben Stiller & Patricia Arquette’s from Flirting With Disaster. This film’s dialogue doesn’t have the same dependence on hip references and tweaking traditional phrases though. It’s s character-driven piece from beginning to end that walks a delicate balance between over-the-top hysterics and low-key truth that doesn't resort to easy resolutions - or beginnings.

Alison Janney, whom Mendes just lets loose after having her play the mentally-drained mother in American Beauty, seems to unleash ten years of repressed emotion in her turn as Lily. She takes it right up to the edge of an SNL caricature and as amusing as she is, the film has us noticing the shell that her husband has become. If you had to live with her, trust me, you would be thinking about the end of the world too. The same goes for Gyllenhaal and Hamilton who could be deemed as just another batch of harmless, goofy hippies. Except their quirks become increasingly harmful and condescending and their chapter earns the crescendo as Burt bursts into revealing precisely what we are all thinking. Eggers & Vida’s screenplay knows precisely when to take it over the edge and when to reign it in and this is never more evident in the Montreal scenes. As Messina’s Tom grabs syrup to illustrate his point about love and family, we expect another off-base psychosis and instead end up listening to a winning philosophy that is childlike in its simplicity but so very adult in its honesty. And where a wackier film would have used an amateur strip competition for one character to shed her motherly instincts and explore her wild side, Away We Go turns it into a heartbreaking discovery of another kind.

Chris Messina, who may have a familiar face to TV audiences and a few small film roles, is so good in those two scenes that it’s impossible to believe this performance is not going to launch him as one of the most consistently working character actors in the coming years. Away We Go is filled precisely with those type of performances and there’s not a flawed one in the bunch. Sitcom and sketch performers like Krasinski and Rudolph rarely get the kind of full-blooded lead roles like Burt & Verona. Usually they are called upon to reenact their television personas or become the goofy scene fillers that potentially steal the film. Both Krasinski and Rudolph though prove beyond the shadow of a doubt what real actors they are. We know each of them can deftly handle the comedy, particularly the subdued presence that Krasinski brings so wonderfully week after week on The Office. But it’s the nuance to which they play the moments of tenderness, of fear and of heartache that’s going to stick with all of us right through the final moments of Dickensian expectations. The triumvirate of Mendes, Krasinski and Rudolph finding the perfect union with Eggers and Vida’s words are never more evident than in a scene on a trampoline that cuts straight to the heart of what the film is about and encapsulates the union of parenthood better than any film I can ever remember.

Before I close the book on just how great every one of these performances are, I couldn’t dream of forgetting the little boy being used by his mother to impress anyone in earshot of his smarts. The manner in which he delivers his final line not only scores the greatest laugh in the film but all other child performances will pale compared to this little one scene cameo the rest of the year. Get me that kid’s name!

Dave Eggers, at the age of 21, wrote the memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, which led to him being labeled as the J.D. Salinger for a new generation. Eggers has since written more than Salinger ever would and, as a film lover, I’m hoping he concentrates his talents on the cinema. His co-credit in adapting the beloved children’s book later this year, Where the Wild Things Are, should only increase people’s anticipation for Spike Jonze’s latest project. With the first original screenplay Mendes has worked with since Alan Ball’s for American Beauty, Mendes has made his best film to date; one which folds in many of his film’s previous themes of confusion, isolation and suburban possession, although finally with a few positives on the latter. There hasn’t been a film released in 2009 that he come close to the excellence of Away We Go (although the forthcoming 500 Days of Summer, another perfectly tuned relationship dramedy opening in July is right alongside it.) The only regret is the inevitable drowning out its going to receive in a sea of summer blockbusters and another six months of releases that may lessen its chances for year-end recognition, which it deserves for Krasinski, Rudolph, Mendes, Janney, Messina, Gyllenhaal and especially Eggers & Vida (and double for that kid!) For all the counterprogramming studios will be matching this season with Matthew McConaughey and Sandra Bullock rom-coms, Away We Go is the reminder we sometimes need that a release date is sometimes only that. Not automatically an act of lacking confidence on the part of a studio or a maneuver for the best cash grab. Sometimes you just want to share a film like Away We Go as soon as possible with people, as I suspect anyone building a family - or simply human - will do.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=18377&reviewer=198
originally posted: 06/12/09 00:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Edinburgh International Film Festival For more in the 2009 Edinburgh International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/14/17 Louise It was OK but not memorable. 3 stars
3/28/14 PAUL SHORTT HEARTWARMING ROMANTIC COMEDY, WITH GOOD PERFORMANCES 3 stars
7/21/12 DK Well acted, affecting and believably stitched together. Warm dramedy with decent laughs. 4 stars
10/24/11 Chris. Really honest movie...hilarious and fun 5 stars
7/26/10 Simon Somehow relateable story with tons of human messages; just too often overt & contrarian 4 stars
7/04/10 RLan a v ery done look at parenthood. Alison Janney was very good. 4 stars
10/19/09 g. excellent, funny, heartfelt film, was pleasantly surprised. 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  05-Jun-2009 (R)
  DVD: 29-Sep-2009

UK
  N/A

Australia
  05-Jun-2009
  DVD: 29-Sep-2009



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