AWAY WE GO
Review by Gordon Justesen
Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Jeff Daniels, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Allison Janney, Chris
Messina, Catherine O’Hara, Paul Schneider
Director: Sam Mendes
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Features: See Review
Length: 98 Minutes
Release Date: September 29, 2009
“Are we f*ck-ups?”
“No. What do you mean?”
“I mean, we’re 34.”
“We don’t even have this basic stuff figured out.”
“Basic, like how?”
“Basic, like how to live.”
Who knew Sam Mendes had a softer side? Even though his films have been pretty diverse since his Oscar-winning debut, American Beauty, all of those films have carried something of a dark edge to them. Perhaps the best example of this was his most previous film, Revolutionary Road.
But now, Mendes has illustrated that he can make a film of a completely opposite tone and still end up creating a true winner. Away We Go is one of the best and most realistic films I’ve ever seen about relationships. It’s also the rarest type of love story that gets made in today’s movie market; a story about two nice people who are deeply in love but are having trouble finding the right place to start a life together. In other words, it’s the very sort of movie that makers of traditionally corny and phony romantic comedies could learn a thing or twelve from.
The story focuses on Burt (John Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph), a thirty-something couple whose relationship reaches its first big turning point when Verona becomes pregnant. They aren’t married yet, and have actually never given a second’s thought to the idea of marriage. Since so many of their friends have gotten married and had kids, the two start pondering if they should give up what to them is already too perfect and give into the marriage institution.
Burt tries to surprise his parents (Jeff Daniels, Catherine O’Hara) with the news. Unfortunately, the self absorbed mom and dad are too drunk with happiness for another reason; they’re moving all the way to Antwerp. Burt is left stunned by the notion that his parents aren’t interested in the slightest about welcoming their first grandchild.
Since Verona’s parents are dead and Burt’s couldn’t care less about the matter, they decide to embark on a road trip, tracking down various friends and work acquaintances to get a since of what becoming a parent is really like, and if marriage is at all necessary as a result. Their first stop is Phoenix, where they meet up with Verona’s onetime boss and close friend, Lily (Allison Janney) and husband Lowell (Jim Gaffigan). It’s the most hilarious part of the film, as Lucy is revealed to be nothing short of a psychopathic chatterbox who will say ANYTHING in front of her husband and two kids, no matter how offensive it is.
They next visit Madison to visit Ellen (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a friend from Burt’s childhood. This doesn’t go so well here either as she reveals herself to be quite an extreme feminist, so much so that the she has rejected the notion of human nature even in the raising of her young son. She also rejects the stroller Burt and Verona brought to her as a gift, telling them, “I love my babies. Why would I want to PUSH them away from me?”
The next two stops on the trip also provide some odd observations. Two of Burt’s friends from college, Tom (Chris Messina) and Munch (Melanie Lynskey) appear to have a joyful marriage, but through the course of an evening out with them, they appear to be in denial. After that, the two make a trip down to Florida to visit Burt’s brother (Paul Schneider), whose wife has just left him.
By the end of the film, we come to realize, along with Burt and Verona, that this odyssey was completely necessary for them to take. As a result of doing so, the choice they make at the end of the movie, which was pretty much Verona’s desired option to begin with, makes so much more sense. The only basic ingredient for them to start a happy life together is what they finally get in the film’s final moment, which is truly moving.
The screenplay by authors and real life married couple Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida is pitch-perfect in every way imaginable for a film like this. It makes sense that such a purely honest look at a relationship would come from the minds of two writers who just happened to be married to one another. They also throw in some whimsical elements into the story, many of which payoff with some very huge laughs.
John Krasinski of TV’s The Office and SNL cast member Maya Rudolph are known mostly for their comedic personas and though they both get to be funny in moments of the film, they have a remarkable chemistry that doesn’t seem the least bit phony. To me, they sound like so many couples I’ve known or even overheard in passing. I even saw a little of myself in Krasinski’s character, which may or may not be a positive thing, but it nevertheless helped me to admire the film even more.
Mendes also made a grand choice in selecting songwriter Alexi Murdoch to supply the film’s outstanding soundtrack. His mellow acoustic songs blend brilliantly well with the scenes in the film they play against. I loved the music so much, I found myself venturing to iTunes right after watching the film to download several of the songs. His song “All My Days” is already a favorite of mine.
Away We Go is easily one of the year’s biggest surprises in that I didn’t expect it to measure up with some of Mendes’ past films. I wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to handle light material like this in the same way he’s done with his intense dramas. But, much to my delight, he’s done just that in one of the best observations of love I’ve ever seen on film.
This Blu-ray release from Universal boasts a truly first rate presentation. Sam Mendes always seems to incorporate an effective look to his films, even for a small little indie comedy like this. The 1080p presents a thoroughly amazingly detailed picture, with the level of terrific color saturation and crisp imaging that only HD can deliver. The scenes in Arizona, in particular, look nothing short of astonishing.
Even with a strictly dialogue driven film like this, you can always count on a DTS HD mix to deliver at a hundred percent nonetheless. The highlight of the presentation is easily the music of Alexi Murdoch, which blends through the channels quite beautifully and balances itself perfectly with the spoken words, which also sound amazingly clear. Various scenes involving the couple in areas such as a crowded restaurant and bar also get a nice treatment as far as background sound goes.
Included is a commentary with Sam Mendes and screenwriters Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, which is very detailed and even very funny at times. There’s also two featurettes, “The Making of Away We Go” and “Green Filmmaking”, as well as some BD Live content.
Away We Go is about as honest a movie you’ll find about a relationship going through critical changes. It’s also a very funny road movie with a number of phenomenal laughs, in addition to being very moving at unexpected moments. Most importantly, it’s completely ridden of clichés, which for this kind of film is very rare. One of the year’s best!