Sunday, June 28, 2009

Reel Thoughts: Two for the Road

Gee, what audience are they going after with the ads for Away We Go?

It’s not that audiences who liked Juno, Napoleon Dynamite and Little Miss Sunshine won’t enjoy watching Maya Rudolph’s perfectly nuanced performance as Verona, a mother-to-be unsure of where she should be. Anyone with a pulse should love Rudolph (daughter of the late singer Minnie Riperton) as she runs the gamut from depressed to aghast to amazed to euphoric, sometimes in the same scene. As her bearded and equally aimless boyfriend Burt, John Krasinski (The Office) is what he is, an all-purpose, somewhat-bland everyman who’s interchangeable with Justin Long and that guy who plays Chuck.

Rudolph and Krasinski play a couple that finds themselves in limbo when Krasinski’s self-absorbed parents (Catherine O’Hara and Jeff Daniels) suddenly announce that they’re moving to Belgium. Realizing that they have no reason to stay in the frigid Colorado purgatory now, the couple decides to take a series of cross-country trips to visit friends and family and decide where to settle down and raise their baby. First stop? Away to Phoenix! And a dustier, tackier Phoenix they couldn’t have found. In a hilarious vignette set at the Phoenix Greyhound Park, Allison Janney plays Lily, an old work friend of Verona’s, who brays and jokes and insults her children within their hearing range. Jim Gaffigan plays her morose conspiracy-nut hubby with scary realism — these people definitely exist in real life.

Off to Tucson, Burt and Verona go to meet Verona’s pretty sister Grace, as well as one of the funniest movie kids in recent history. After a little sisterly bonding in a bathtub warehouse, the couple leaves Tucson for Madison and a priceless visit with Maggie Gyllenhaal as LN (pronounced "Ellen"), Burt’s childhood friend who has become a militant Earth Mother and “family bed” proponent. The movie hits its comic peak as Burt and Verona try to endure LN’s pretentious and patronizing parenting lessons.

Montreal and Miami are also on the itinerary before Burt and Verona can come to terms with their lives and Burt can confront Verona with why she doesn’t want to marry him. Sam Mendes almost redeems himself after the cinematic depressant Revolutionary Road, which actually turned his stunning wife Kate Winslet into an annoying shrew, and he shows a much lighter touch with the material. He stacks the deck with a bit too much horrifying local “flavor” and drags the Montreal section on too long, but he captures the real angst of thirtysomethings unsure of what to do with their lives. The ending, while predictable yet inexplicable, is nonetheless sweet and satisfying as the meandering soon-to-be parents finally find a place to call home — each other.

If you like indie films with a lot of quirky characters and sharp dialogue, you’ll want to say Away We Go.

UPDATE: Away We Go is now available on DVD and Blu-rayfrom

Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

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