The fifth film by British theater director Sam Mendes, Away We Go, is the most unkempt movie the director has made so far in his career. It was made while he was still in post-production for last year's excellent adaptation of Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road, a film that was dependent on its form and staginess, and there's a sense that Away was made as a sort of counterpoint not only to the familial dread of Road but also to its style.
It is also the screenwriting debut of the wildly post-modern novelist Dave Eggers and his wife Vendela Vida, novelist and co-founder of literary zine The Believer. Being the recent parents of two children, there's certainly a self-reflexive quality to their script, which tells of the travels of a pair of expecting parents attempting to find a proper home for their awaited progeny. Article continues below
In the beginning, they already have a home. Burt Farlander (John Krasinski of The Office) and his longtime girlfriend Verona (Maya Rudolph) are rooted to their home in Colorado, expecting his parents (Jeff Daniels and Catherine O'Hara) to help out a bit. The elder Farlanders unexpected plan to move to Belgium, however, sends the couple on the road to find a new home. Punctuated by black title-boards that announce each location, they begin in Phoenix where they visit both an old boss and her husband (the wonderful Allison Janney and Jim Gaffigan) and Verona's sister Grace (Carmen Ejogo) and end with Burt's recently-separated brother Courtney (Paul Schneider) in Miami.
In form, the film is a complete mess but it's an engaging and, often, very funny mess. The couple bop around from Janney's madly neglectful mother-of-two to a pair of hilarious and horrifying new-agers (Maggie Gyllenhaal and Josh Hamilton) and finally to their married best friends from college, Tom and Munch (nicely played by Chris Messina and Melanie Lynskey). Less than real characters, each pair is an example of what could go wrong as parents and B and V eventually come to their own conclusions about how to raise their child, including Verona's decision to never marry Burt.
With its goofy and lovable leads and playful rhythm, Away ends up being far more plainspoken than one would think about the helplessness of parenthood. That isn't to say that it isn't hopeful. Verona says at one point " All we can do is be good for this one baby... we don't have control over much else" and that mood is conveyed thoroughly. Yet, despite its abundance of humor and style, Mendes' film feels impersonal and lacks the intimacy the director usually specializes in.
At times, Away We Go feels like an attempt to make a commercialized version of films like those of Andrew Bujalski or the Duplass brothers. There are moments of honesty and deep affection throughout the film but they are often muzzled by the intrusive and distracting score by pseudo-Drake folkster Alexi Murdoch. Krasinski and Rudolph embody the modern post-collegiate expecting parents well enough, but neither Mendes nor Eggers and Vida have anything very current to say about being parents. Like the film they appear in, I ultimately want to care about Burt and Verona much more than I actually do.