Away We Go

Year: 2009
Production Co: Big Beach Films
Studio: Focus Features
Director: Sam Mendes
Producer: Sam Mendes
Writer: Dave Eggers/Vendela Vida
Cast: John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Maggie Gylenhaal, Allison Janney, Catherine O'Hara, Jeff Daniels

In-love Gen Xers Burt (Krasinski) and Verona (Rudolph) fall pregnant and embark on a cross-continent odyssey to find the right spiritual home to bring up their baby, meeting the best and worst possible role models on the way.

Scripted by publishing wunderkind Dave Eggers, Away We Go feels like a Sundance-oriented passion project Sam (American Beauty) Mendes signed onto for indie kudos. He plumps for unknown leads, a low-fi approach and a folk-flavoured soundtrack rather than his usual slickness and loses a little too much in the process.

Where his other films deal with the inspirational unshackling from life's mediocrities, Away We Go has no such story development or distinctive presence. Though varied, the settings all feel the same, Mendes seeming to merely follow his actors around with a camcorder. It may be he considered the script the star and toned down the directorial flourishes, but the result is a loss of the dramatic tension he's so good at. More critically, the story's just not that interesting.

As leads Burt and Verona, Krasinski are sympathetic and likeable but don't have the presence of their better-known co-stars. They might have been John Hughes movie kids who've grown up to learn they're not cool after all. They aren't living the sort of life they envisioned when they unexpectedly fall pregnant, Verona asking Burt at one point 'are we fuck-ups?'. Their doubts and fears about impending parenthood are further compounded when Burt's parents move away, killing off the support of doting grandparents they were counting on.

So the pair take flight to find a hometown that feels right, calling on friends and relatives around North America in a series of vignettes that teach them how not to be good parents. Between the goofy, talky soccer mum (Janney) to the extreme Aquarian hippie (Gyllenhaal), the two end up more confused than they started.

Away We Go is peppered with funny (at times too slapstick) characterisations and lines and ironically doesn't go anywhere. With each new visit, Burt and Verona have little to do but try not to laugh at another extreme approach to child-rearing and move on. We meet them deeply in love but worried about whether they can cut it and leave them the same way. It renders the film a search with no resolution about characters with no arc.

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