AWAY WE GO
US, 2009, 98 minutes, Colour.
John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Carmen Ejogo, Catherine O’ Hara, Jeff Daniels, Allison Janney, Jim Gaffigan, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Josh Hamilton, Chris Messina, Melanie Lynskey.
Directed by Sam Mendes.
A very cheerfully serious film. Those who know the films of Sam Mendes may be surprised to see one of his films described as cheerful. When one thinks of American Beauty, Road to Perdition and Revolutionary Road, happiness is not the firs thought that comes to mind. Mendes has been something of a chronicler of American suburbia, the lives of families and, so often, their quiet despair.
This time he focuses on a young couple (unmarried, he is for marriage, she is not). They are in their 30s, happy with each other, but feeling that they have not got to grips with their lives and where they are going. When Verona (a more serious Maya Rudolph) becomes pregnant, she and Burt (a likeable John Krasinski), they decide to go to visit his parents (hers have died) for some support when the baby comes. The parents (Catherine O' Hara, eagerly demonstrative) and Jeff Daniels (hyperbolically optimistic) reveal that they are going to fulfil a dream and go to live in Antwerp for two years. So..., support?
Away Verona and Burt go, all over the US and even to Montreal, so see relatives and friends and to decide where they should live and what would be best for the baby. In Arizona, Verona's sister is very affirming of them both. Also in Arizona, an interlude with Verona's former boss and her morose husband, proves overwhelming. As played by Allison Janney, she is a hilarious monster, even mocking her children to their faces (alleging that it is only white noise for them!), while her husband sees evidence of the collapse of the US everywhere. Even more overwhelming is a visit to Wisconsin to a cousin and her husband (an exuberant Maggie Gylenhaal and a laid-back Josh Hamilton). They are beyond New Age, embodying every fad and trend and more – the gift of a stroller for their child is rejected because they carry their child, don't push him away from them in a stroller. But, an exasperated Burt does.
Their visit to friends in Montreal is more normal. The couple (Chris Messina and Melanie Lynskey) have adopted several children but have experienced a series of miscarriages. Their melancholy thoughts on young unwanted pregnancies while older couples long for children are poignant.
This is an enjoyable road movie because of the sympathetic characters (who do commit very seriously to each other and to their baby), the often funny screenplay (by a husband and wife team who have two children of their own) and the more joyful affirmation of life values.
1.A film with the light touch, serious themes? Satirical touches and over-the-top characters? A satisfying blend?
2.Sam Mendez, his American films, the focus on American families and relationships?
3.The film as a piece of Americana, Colorado, Arizona, Wisconsin, Florida – and the visit to Montreal? The range of places, cities, the countryside, the people? The score, the songs, the final song and its lyrics?
4.The introduction to Burt and Verona? The screenwriters and their being married with children, the film based on their experiences? In love, not married? The opening intimacy, the pregnancy? The humour, slapstick and pratfalls? At home with each other? The consequences of the pregnancy and their plans?
5.The issue of marriage, Burt proposing, Verona refusing? Her reasons? Not wanting a contract, not wanting the law? But the continued commitment, the final promises?
6.Burt’s job, insurance? The possibilities of a job in another place? The couple feeling unsettled, in their mid-thirties, spoiling their lives, not having plans? The need for family support? Her serious demeanour, perceptions on life, relationships, the pregnancy, jobs? He and his humour, good nature? The loud phone calls and trying to impress people? The interview – and its failure? On the phone under the bed? His cobbling – carving to be ready for his child to help? Zany?
7.The visit to the parents, eccentric characters, their delight with the visit, the offer of support, the meal, the father and his optimism, the mother and her expressiveness, the news that they were going to Antwerp, their plans, happy – but leaving the younger couple with their baby? The effect on Burt and Verona?
8.Away to Phoenix, the meeting with Lily, loud, drinking, her former boss, Lowell and his grim demeanour, paranoid comments about the future of America, the children, their being ridiculed by their mother in their presence, the lesbian comment, the walk, listening in to what their parents were saying?
9.Away to Tucson, Grace and her support for Verona, her joy for Burt and Verona, their talk, affirming them?
10.Burt, preparing for the interview, the aftermath, not getting the job?
11.The welcome in Wisconsin, the connection with LN and Rod? The present of the stroller – and its rejection? The New Age, the strange behaviour, trendy? Mouthing the politically correct and healthy and environmental comments? Burt and Verona and their reaction, at the meals, the confrontation, criticism of the ideas, the behaviour? Burt and his picking up the baby, carrying it, in the stroller? LN and Rod in disbelief? Their personalities, their views, how they acquired them, living them out?
12.Away to Montreal, encountering the range of adopted children, backgrounds, race? Tom and his wife, the sadness of the miscarriages? Playing with the children, feeling at home, going to the amateur night, the wife and her sadness? The comments by Tom on young girls getting pregnant and not wanting their children, couples like themselves desperately wanting to have children, loving their children?
13.Away to Florida, the call from Burt’s brother, his plight, his wife leaving him, his inability to tell his daughter, the outings, Verona telling the little girl stories, the brother and his sadness? Burt’s support?
14.Burt and Verona, thinking through things, going deeper, feeling authentic love, preparation for their family?
15.The decision to go to Verona’s home, her roots, memories of her dead parents, settling into the home and the countryside? Their future?
16.A positive presentation of commitment, pregnancy, children, family and support?