DIR: Sam Mendes • WRI: Dave Eggers, Vendela Vida • PRO: Sam Mendes, Peter Saraf, Edward Saxon, Marc Turtletaub • ED: Sarah Flack • DES: Jess Gonchor • CAST: John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Jeff Daniels, Maggie Gyllenhaal
Since the popularity of Juno, studios have been spewing out so-called ‘indie’ flicks like there’s no tomorrow. ‘Kooky’ tales interspersed with singer-songwriter guitar music, self-consciously witty dialogue and minimal cinematography. Sam Mendes, however, has more experience than your average indie-flicker, and though the pretentions are all there, his attention to realistic character detail and beautiful shots lifts Away We Go above the artificialness of the generic norm.
That’s not to say that there aren’t cracks in the well-constructed wall – those classic indie stereotypes still abound. From Jeff Daniels’ and Catherine O’Hara’s selfishly clueless parents, to Allison Janney’s trapped-in-parenthood lunatic, and back again to Maggie Gyllenhaal’s painfully hippy mother-earth nutjob, the staples of quirky storytelling are all present. That the observed conventions don’t stick out garishly is down to a fine calibre of acting talent, pleasantly mobile music, and a nicely painted palette of scenes from Mendes.
The basic plot centres on an early-thirties couple – Burt and Verona (played by John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph) – who, on learning of the imminent departure of Burt’s parents prior to the even more imminent arrival of their baby, decide to strike out together to find somewhere to call home. Krasinski might be best known for the American Office, and this character cannot be said to be a million miles from his desk-bound counterpart. However, he brings a goofy sweetness to the role, which works extremely well in the context, and makes Burt a loveable sap. Maya Rudolph, a multi-talented comedienne and songstress, takes a step forward from her Saturday Night Live alter-ego into more serious acting chops, and makes a good job of giving Verona the vulnerability of a first-time mom, as well as the procrastinating directionless freefall of an early-thirties woman not sure of the road ahead.
Most movies dealing with childbirth or pregnancy within this age-group – the late 20s/early 30s citizens of uncertainty – tend towards the patronising, wildly inaccurate, and often downright insulting. The tact and realism with which the issues are dealt with are what gives this movie its real heart. Though the majority of the couple’s encounters with other parents are ripe with comedy, there is truth and pathos beneath every scene. Their struggle with questions of inadequacy and unpreparedness strikes an honest chord and, most meaningfully, their constant battle to retain their individual personalities in the face of becoming a mother and father.
More fun Jarhead than dramatic Road to Perdition, Mendes finds the bittersweet in being an indecisive 30-something struggling to find not only a home, but a more permanent sense of self.
(See biog here)