Thursday, June 04, 2009

Away We Go (***1/2)

Away We Go.  97 mins.  R.  Directed by Sam Mendes.  Written by Dave Eggers & Vendela Vida.  Starring John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Catherine O'Hara, Jeff Daniels, Allison Janney, and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Sam Mendes' follow-up to the much hyped (and way too depressing) Revolutionary Road is a 180 degree change of pace in terms of tone and pacing.  It's a low-key charmer, featuring two great lead performances from John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph.    They play Burt and Verona, an unmarried couple expecting their first child.  When Burt's parents announce that they're moving to Belgium, Burt and Verona head off on a cross-country odyssey to figure out where to live and raise their child.  Loosely modeled on the screenwriters themselves, real-life couple Dave Eggers & Vendela Vida, the story hits a lot of graceful, truthful notes about love, marriage, pregnancy, parenthood, and home.  When the movie focuses on the happy couple, and gives us an intimate look at their relationship with each other, Away We Go glows.  But the movie is not without its independent comedy roadblocks.  Many of the supporting characters here are way too quirky and broadly sketched, and overplayed by the recognizable actors inhabiting them.  Trying to make as big an impression in as little time as possible, Catherine O'Hara, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and (especially) Allison Janney are all annoying and, well, fake.  In a movie that aims to touch upon the little truths in life, it's a mistake to give these characters so much screen time and take the focus off of Burt and Verona.  But then, near the end, in an extended sequence set in Montreal, the script slows down, gets serious, and explores some interesting issues, and the movie benefits from it.  I enjoyed this movie as a serio-comic relationship film, but the comic elements threaten to derail it at times.  The movie stays on track though thanks to Krasinski and Rudolph, and a heaping help of clever, insightful dialogue.  Away We Go is a small film worth seeking out.



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