There are all kinds of ways to do things right and all kinds of ways to do things wrong. A movie is like a chemistry formula—one compound off, and you could end up with something entirely different from what you intended. And that something could be awesome—like when Silly Putty was invented—or it could fucking turn into steam and burn the vision from your eyes. It’s a risky business films sometimes take. And sometimes it’s great. That’s how we ended up with the Magnolias, the Clerks, and even the There’s Something about Marys of the world. But, sometimes Frost was wrong, sometimes you shouldn’t stray off the beaten path, because when you do you’ll end up lost in a tangle of ideas that can’t possible come to fruition.
Maya Rudolph was great in Idiocracy, but in Away We Go, she is stunning as Verona De Tessant, medical illustrator extraordinaire. Verona is in a steady relationship with insurance seller Burt Farlander, played by John Krasinski. After finding out they are pregnant, Verona and Burt visit his parents to share the news. However, his parents (played by Jeff Daniels and Catherine O’Hara) are preparing to move to Belgium. Because Burt and Verona have lived in Colorado solely to be close to Burt’s parents, the couple decides to travel the country to find a home where they can raise their child.
The couple visits Tucson, Montreal, etc. Along the way, they encounter all kinds of dysfunction in friends and family. Allison Janney is on par in her role as an unkind wife and terrible mother; it seems to be a reworking of the beaten-by-life woman she played in her last Mendes film, American Beauty. If anything, she proves she is quite adept at playing different characters that muck through the same shit. Other characters along the way include Maggie Gyllenhaal, who plays LN, a neo-hippie, breastfeeding aficionado, and Carmen Ejogo, who place Grace, Verona’s sister who is so shaken from their parents’ death she runs away from any stable relationship opportunities that present themselves. To back up nice bits of acting is crisp dialogue, filled with offbeat humor that is generally more rewarding than blatant humor would be.
So what’s the problem? What could possibly make a running time of an hour and 34 minutes seem interminably long? There’s too much indulgence—scenes could have been cut shorter, characters made slightly less over-the-top, and they certainly could have done away with the gratuitous “on the road to” shots that pepper the screen upon reaching each new destination. Caught trying to be a film that says and means too much, Vida and Eggers, or maybe Mendes, never find the right balance. In the end, all you have are these little moments. Moments where Munch Garnett (played by Melanie Lynskey) pole dances to “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’” as she eyes the baby she can’t have growing in Verona’s tummy, where Verona and Burt sleep alongside one another on a trampoline, where Burt frees LN’s child, Wolfie (played by Bailey Harkins), from a life without a stroller ride . In the end, it’s these moments that make this movie worth viewing. At the beginning of the film, Verona espouses, “I don’t know why you do anything you do, Burt, just don’t blow.” It seems to be commentary for the film as a whole—it doesn’t blow, but neither does the decision-making process make sense, much less captivate… It’s like Tender Is the Night: when it’s good, it can be spot on. But when it’s bad, it can be excruciating. And unlike Tender Is the Night, there is more material to cringe over than rejoice in.
I don’t know what’s more irritating: the fact that the previews can’t be skipped or the fact that Away We Go employs the cartoon advertising that’s been popular since Diablo Cody birthed her ticket to paradise, Juno. The special features, using a backdrop of soothing Yoga music, try extraordinarily hard, not to get people behind the film, but to get people behind “the healthy environment” of the film. Rather impressively, the entire film was shot in Connecticut (including the Tucson and Florida scenes), and everything on the set was recycled with the help of an environmental agency, Earthmark. Even the silverware was made out of cornstarch. It’s a cute ploy to focus on saving the planet, one that doesn’t push me to get any further behind the film. The disc does offer one interesting special feature; an audience can watch the entire film without the dialogue and with the addition of commentary by David Eggers and Sam Mendes. However, be forewarned: an hour and 34 minutes of commentary is excruciating to get through.