Sunday, July 12, 2009
Thoroughly convinced of its own significance, Away We Go is a harmless, little film playing dress-up in its parents’ flannels and parkas. It’s a charming movie in its lighter moments, but the goofy indie hand-me-downs are the trappings of a shallow, satisfied tale of lost potential.
When Verona asks Bert if they’re fuck-ups, she's not seriously open to criticism; it’s a demand for reassurance. Bert loves Verona, but we have no such affection for disappointing screenwriters Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida. Their screenplay is ground zero for the film’s primary failing, that it's feckless navel-gazing as drama. To be sure, Woody Allen, Noah Baumbach, and Whit Stillman have demonstrated the potential for neurotic bourgeois wit-athons, but where Away We Go approaches the comedy of those films, its intellectual pursuits are less inspired.
For all the rumination on marriage and parenthood, the film is content with the mere asking of questions, which is actually provocative enough were it not for the ostensibly momentous occasions of insight. Away We Go is teeming with profound moments, often in the midst of absurdist humor—the tonal chiaroscuro serving merely to distract from the lack of depth—as if the writers felt the offering of serious subjects would lend the film meaning.
None of these hollow revelations are so big or boring as the climactic return home. This final scene is practically a music video for our picaresque troubadour Alexi Murdoch, whose reassuring, unadorned vocals fail to achieve the authenticity the film strives for in its “Huck Finny” travelogue interludes. Murdoch’s enchanting, but his range is tiny, and the soundtrack unwittingly contributes to the film’s freshman coffeehouse feel.
Hot on the heels of Revolutionary Road, Sam Mendes once again proves himself a director whose pretty pictures have little substance. This would be fine, of course, but for the film’s adamant declarations of brilliance, which are compromised by, well, what we see on screen. Bert is an affable dork, and Verona’s endearingly anxious, but these two are frustratingly solipsistic, neurotic about everything and utterly resistant to perspective.
Still, casting is one area Mendes and company excel. John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph make a winning duo, and we root for them fully cognizant of their Mary Sue qualities. Their road trips, owed to long-dormant aspirations to Dean Moriarty, one imagines, propel them through a troupe of welcome indie stalwarts including Catherine O’Hara, Jeff Daniels, Allison Janney, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Josh Hamilton, Chris Messina, Melanie Lynskey, and Paul Schneider.
The ensemble expertly negotiates the script’s ample humor, a highlight being the far-fetched but hysterical subplot involving Maggie Gyllenhaal as an aggressively new age recent mother. This subplot culminates, as the trailer reveals, in Bert introducing her child to the stroller, and it plays as a triumph for our heroes Bert and Verona. The scene invites us to cheer on arrogance because it comes in two such lovely shapes with such literate, well-meaning shades. And besides: those hippies deserved it for being such horrible people!
Away We Go has nothing remarkable to say and is neither as believable nor as charming as it thinks. It’s a distraction—on the whole, a pleasantly engaging one—but ultimately a waste of potential that desperately wants to convince you of its importance.