Away We Go

Starring Maya Rudolph, John Krasinski, Allison Janney, Maggie Gyllenhaal . Directed by Sam Mendes.
Rated MA15+ (strong coarse language and sexual references). 97 mins.

After the intensity of Sam Mendes’ earlier films American Beauty and The Road to Perdition and even Revolutionary Road, the light touch of Away We Go comes as something of a pleasant surprise. It’s as if the British director decided it was time, after his fascination with the darker side of American life, to redress the balance and show the lighter, more conventional side of the coin.

That is not to say that the characters in Away We Go are sitcom stereotypes of squeaky-clean Americana. Far from it. Some of them are kooky bordering on crazy. But there is a sunny quality about this rather eccentric road movie that makes it a genial experience in an off-the-beaten track kind of way.

It’s all about pregnancy, and perhaps it will resonate most with couples who are expecting or who have just had a baby.  Written by husband and wife Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, the script is peppered with little exchanges between the central characters that speak volumes about the affectionate relationship of the expectant mum and dad as well as their uncertainties about the new phase of life they are entering.

They couple are Burt (played by John Krasinski, from the US version of The Office) and Verona (Maya Rudolph, another TV actor from Saturday Night Live). Almost deserving of the adjective “alternative”, they live in Colorado, close to Burt’s parents (Jeff Daniels and Catherine O’Hara) on whom they plan to rely for baby-sitting duties when the time comes. But when the grandparents-to-be announce that a month before the baby is born they will be going to live in Europe for two years, Burt and Verona re-evaluate their priorities. Realising that neither likes living in Colorado much, they hit the road to find a place where they will be happy to raise their child.

A series of titles chart their journey — Away to Phoenix/Tucson/Madison/Montreal/Miami  — as they look up old schoolfriends, relatives, workmates and the like in the hope of finding a community in which they can feel comfortable. Alas, these people from their pasts disappoint in one way or another, but they provide the actors playing them wonderful opportunities for scene-stealing.

Allison Janney, for example, is richly funny in her short scene as Verona’s former boss in Phoenix, a loud, uncouth dame with a potty mouth. And Maggie Gyllenhall is pure delight as one of Burt’s former university colleagues who breastfeeds her children way beyond the normal age and who won’t use strollers (we would say pushers) because they are a key factor in making America a dysfunctional country (!).

Krasinski and Rudolph play their roles with a nice comic feel and never push too hard for effect (almost unheard of these days in Hollywood product). Their almost casual style is extremely watchable and likeable, and Mendes’ direction is complementary. It may not be a film that hits great heights but it is different enough to be refreshing.

NBC Universal  Out October 29

Mr Jim Murphy is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.


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