Oh, Sweet Nuthin': Sam Mendes' "Away We Go"

By robbiefreeling | REVERSEBLOG: the reverse shot blog June 3, 2009 at 2:31AM

Oh, Sweet Nuthin': Sam Mendes' "Away We Go"
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Scripted by literary-world darlings Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, and sure to be dear to the hearts of easy-to-please reviewers in thrall to any middling drama bearing the Sam Mendes imprimatur, Away We Go is a defiantly bourgeois, unapologetically conventional indie road movie fueled by preciousness. A zany love story, a pot-holed journey of self-discovery, and a post-religious parable of the Holy Family, the film tracks a too-perfect hipster everycouple on a cross-country trip to find the ideal place to settle down and start a family. Yet the film’s humor is at odds with its liberal, Volvo sedan–motored progressivism, marginalizing misfits and slyly proselytizing best-practice parenting and impossibly idealized relationship dynamics. Life happens, but mostly to other people.

Newly pregnant and faced with the responsibility of child rearing, Burt (John Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph) pay a visit to his parents, Jerry and Gloria (a cockamamie, superlative-uttering Jeff Daniels and brassy Catherine O’Hara), who delightedly inform them of their intent to move abroad. Bereft of their main support system, the Colorado-based, thirtysomething couple decides to ramble on, visiting friends and relatives in far-flung cities where they might want to plant roots. With each overheated encounter, the archetypes of family dysfunction pile up like highway roadkill. In Phoenix, Allison Janney’s boozy, loud-mouthed loose cannon, Lily, a former colleague of Verona’s, is a horror show of bad mothering; she’s contemptuous of her dreary husband, Lowell (Jim Gaffigan), and insolently mean-spirited toward her overweight, unhappy kids. Next on the itinerary is a reassuring visit to Verona’s gorgeous sister (Carmen Ejogo) in Tucson, then on to Madison, where Burt’s neo-hippie ideologue sibling (Maggie Gyllenhaal, running with the caricature), first glimpsed double breast-feeding her too-old tots, drives them away with her anti-stroller tirade (“I looove my babies. Why would I want to push them away from me?”) and second-wave-feminist self-righteousness.

These cartoon-grade human grotesques give way to maudlin set-ups in Montreal (reproductive mishaps darken the happy-family vibe of two college pals, now adoptive parents) and Miami (Burt’s brother struggles to raise his daughter alone), eventually leading the latter-day Mary and Joseph to a satisfyingly cozy end destination. Unsparingly gilded with feel-good clichés, the film concludes with—what else?—unconventional vows (exchanged on a trampoline) and the reclamation of a quaintly archetypal ancestral manse (empty, overgrown with vegetation, conveniently parked on to-die-for lakeside property) Verona hasn’t visited since her parents died. Home is where the heartache is.

Click here to read the rest of Damon Smith's review of Away We Go.


And earlier: Jeff Reichert's review on indieWIRE.