AWAY WE GO
Thirtysomethings Burt (John Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph) discover they are going to have a child. Expecting support from Burt's parents (Catherine O'Hara, Jeff Daniels), who instead leave for a two-year overseas holiday, they turn their initial dismay into an opportunity to embark on their own literal journey of discovery. Taking to the road, they visit old friends in places from Miami to Canada; from new-age intellectuals to slightly desperate crazies, from the negligent to the overly protective, each welcoming parent proffers well-meaning advice to the fleeing couple.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
As if to prove how much harder it is to make a terrific comedy, Sam Mendes has made a laboured (sorry) attempt at a comedy about a pregnant woman who tries to find a place to call home with her boyfriend - whom she refuses to marry. There is nothing more important for the central characters than the imminent arrival of their baby in three months time - but by excluding almost everything else from their conversations and actions, the film is a bit too sentimental and rather flat, despite some amusing scenes.
Maya Rudolph's stand-out performance makes the film worthwhile, and John Krasinski as the eager boyfriend is also fine, although Mendes gets him to do sit-com things which drag the film's tone in the wrong direction. Likewise the ever excellent Maggie Gyllenhaal, whose spiritually aware, all-natural mother figure is a bravura parody - along with her ponytailed soulmate, Lowell, (Jim Gaffigan) - of those who live on a higher consciousness level than us, on a giant bed all together as one happy family, have sex in front of their children and are offended by strollers: why would you want to PUSH your child away from you!! Shriek!
But Mendes allows things to get into sitcom land too often, as with Allison Janney's overacted performance as the loud, vulgar and un-motherly mother of youngsters, and Catherine O'Hara as Verona's grotesque mother in law ... if she and Burt were married.
The road movie structure serves to bounce X and Y around America in search of a nest; they find all options wanting, until a tearful and delayed return to the maternal home, where X was raised. Why it took so long to find the obvious is unclear; it means that we have to endure a folksy vocals n' guitar soundtrack which helps plonk the film on my special 'groan' shelf.
Review by Louise Keller:
Parenthood, relationships and belonging are the themes of this occasionally endearing road movie on which acclaimed director Sam Mendes has put his stamp. In a way, Mendes' involvement surprisingly works against it as it raises expectations to a level that cannot be met. Away We Go is an amiable comedy with a stellar cast, yet the film fails to satisfy, as much of what happens and the various characters are so overdone, there is little connection to reality.
We first meet Maya Rudolph's Verona and John Krasinski's Burt in a compromising situation in bed. The way the news of Verona's impending pregnancy is delivered is one you could never expect. Then the journey begins. The film poses a series of question marks about serious issues, often depicted in a humorous way. Insecurities about weight, to marry or not to marry, where to live, how to live and near who to live are some of the issues raised.
The road trip begins with a visit to Burt's over-doting parents. But there are surprises in store as soon as they walk through the door, when Catherine O'Hara's Gloria and Jeff Daniels' Jerry have news of their own. Then it is off to Phoenix where Allison Janny's over-the-top redhead is the loud, brash foot-in-mouth friend with inappropriate behaviour. In Tucson, it is Verona's sister Grace (Carmen Ejogo, lovely), whose relationship is filled with insecurities. The scene-stealer is Maggie Gyllenhaal's new age earth mother LN (yes, it sounds like it's spelt), with an aversion to strollers. Her Continuum home with the communal bed and lover with as much balance as a seahorse on land is amusing as an interlude, although the sequence, like most of the film, is overdone.
It is a surprising choice for Mendes and one in which he exercises no subtlety. Unlike his masterpiece American Beauty that makes its point in both a realistic, credible way and elevates its content in satirical, cutting style.
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AWAY WE GO (MA)
CAST: John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Carmen Ejogo, Catherine O'Hara, Jeff Daniels, Allison Janney, Jim Gaffigan, Maggie Gyllenhaal
PRODUCER: Sam Mendes, Peter Saraf, Edward Saxon, Marc Turtletaub
DIRECTOR: Sam Mendes
SCRIPT: Dave Eggers, Vendela Vila
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ellen Kuras
EDITOR: Sarah Flack
MUSIC: Alexi () Murdoch
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jess Gonchor
RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 10, 2009
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