Away We Go Review
Put simply, Away We Go is just like all the other indie films that have been popping up lately: captivating, quirky, charming... But, most importantly, what sets it apart is this is a Sam Mendes film. Often referred to as ‘the actor’s director’, Mendes knows his shit. Whether it’s a war film, adaptation of a graphic novel or a close study of the American Dream, he knows his characters and his actors inside out and back to front, drawing out the best performances possible.
Mendes began his career in theatre, thus acquiring the skills and knowledge to work on a small scale with intimate settings and with character centred narratives. Plot-wise, Away We Go is Mendes’ simplest film to date. Burt Farlander (John Krasinski of the American version of The Office fame) and Verona De Tessant (Maya Rudolph, a Saturday Night Live regular since 2000) are an unmarried thirty-something couple about to have their first child. When Burt’s parents tell the expectant couple that they are going to move to Belgium right before the birth, they head off on the mother of all road trips to try and find the perfect place to settle down and raise their family.
There were worries that Away We Go would try too hard to be like its predecessors (Little Miss Sunshine meets Juno); even its poster is reminiscent of that of Juno. One might also assume that such a film isn’t the kind of project that Mendes would usually undertake, but take a closer look at his back catalogue (American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Jarhead, Revolutionary Road) and you’ll soon realise that at the heart of his films are strong characters, close relationships and an inner struggle. Sure, Away We Go will never have the kind of awards success that Mendes is used to (his last four films have received a combined total of six Oscars, eight BAFTAs and four Golden Globes, including the Best Director, Picture, Original Screenplay and Actor Oscars for his debut, American Beauty), but it is most definitely a crowd pleaser.
Working without composer Thomas Newman for the first time in his filmic career, Mendes’ latest film features a soundtrack primarily made up of original music by Alexi Murdoch with a splattering of George Harrison, The Stranglers, Bob Dylan and The Velvet Underground for good measure. When an indie film has an ass-kicking soundtrack, the latter can sometimes trump the film. Fortunately, Away We Go’s soundtrack sets the tone of the film perfectly and is a fitting accompaniment. What makes the film so endearing is its subtlety. Rudolph’s mum-to-be says more with a slight inflection or eyebrow raise than any monologue and Krasinski’s one-liners and gestures are hilarious. Real life couple Eggers and Vida’s screenplay manages to be enchanting and heartfelt without being overly sentimental and goes from touching to laugh-out-loud funny in a matter of seconds.
Travelling by plane, train and automobile takes Verona and Burt to Phoenix, Tucson, Madison, Montreal and Miami, catching up with family and old friends. Once they start going from place to place the film becomes quite episodic and doesn’t really flow properly until the final two destinations. The supporting characters in the middle third, Verona’s eccentric ex-boss Lily (Allison Janney) and Burt’s ‘cousin’ LN (the usually fabulous Maggie Gyllenhaal) are quite irritating. However, their college friends Munch (Melanie Lynskey) and Tom (Chris Messina) are exceptional. Each of their little pitstops sees a different type of family, usually dysfunctional, inevitably showing them the kind of life they don’t want to live. Like most road movies, this is a journey of self discovery rather than simply being a case of getting from A to B.
Away We Go makes you wonder what’s next for one of Britain’s greatest working directors; it seems he can do no wrong.