For my money, the new dramatic comedy “Away We Go” is the first serious contender for Best Picture of the Year consideration.
But with this bold statement, I acknowledge there will be segments of the moviegoing populace who will be turned off by the film for a variety of reasons. Those whose lives are rigidly structured and demand the same of their entertainment will recoil at the story’s fragmented structure, not unlike the chapters of a novel. Others will find the main characters wishy-washy and wonder why they can’t just make up their damn minds already. But for us Gen-X’ers, those of us who are mired in a life half lived, still unsure of what we’re going to do with ourselves or how we’re going to afford to get there, we will find this story equally resonant and comical from start to finish.
As we first meet Burt (John Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph), she is six months pregnant with their first child, and living in a rathole of a trailer in the middle of the most desolate part of Colorado, to be close to his parents when the baby is born. But when his parents announce they are pursuing their dream of living in Europe, and are leaving mere weeks before the baby is due, the expecting couple takes new stock in their lives. Both have job skills they can take wherever, and with the one thing keeping them in Colorado now leaving for Belgium, Burt and Verona decide to take a road trip across North America, to visit friends and family and try to find a new place to put down roots. And, as the title suggests, away they go… from Arizona to Ontario to Florida, visiting former co-workers, college buddies, brothers and sisters and cousins, Burt and Verona slowly but surely work out what the hell they’re doing with their lives.
What matter most, at least to this writer, is that Burt and Verona are one of the few couples to appear on screen who actually love each other. They are at ease with one another, and there is no need for the now-standard conventions of the modern romantic comedy. They don’t argue for the sake of arguing, or to get in some pseudo-witty or poignant zinger, or an excuse for hop in the sack. They don’t threaten to break up over some minor squabble or disagreement. They don’t feel the need to doubt their bond after dealing with some repulsive people, or smarmily comment on the obvious. (Although that last part might actually makes them anachronistic to the modern thirtysomething couple.) Burt and Verona are just real people, reacting to the wackiness around them with genuine incredulity, as real people might. And there are many people to credit for that legitimacy. First and foremost are the screenwriters, novelists Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) and Vendela Vida (Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name). Considering both writers are best known for somewhat fictionalized memoirs, one might wonder how much of their own lives went in to the creation of this fable, although in the end it probably doesn’t matter much. It is the substance and richness of these two characters that almost instantly draw the audience in, that the final product would likely have been almost as good had other good actors played the roles. With two gifted actors like Krasinki and Rudolph, however, Burt and Verona are simply two of the richest characters to grace the screen in years. Both actors are smart enough to not outplay any scene, finding the ideal spot in each scene that keeps the proceedings from becoming too jovial or melancholy. And with the assured direction of Sam Mendes and fine work from all the supporting cast (which includes Jeff Daniels & Catherine O’Hara, Allison Janney & Jim Gaffigan, Maggie Gyllenhaal & Josh Hamilton, and Chris Messina & Melanie Lynskey as the various couples they meet up with on their travels, as well as Carmen Egojo as Verona’s sister and most especially Paul Schneider as Burt’s brother), it’s hard to imagine a more touching, sincere movie to come out this year.
In a summer that will be filled with Wolverines and Terminators and Transformers and Inglourious Basterds (not that there is anything wrong with them), it’s great to see a major studio-affiliated distributor bring out an adult-driven movie that is after more lofty goals then just blowing a lot of stuff up. These types of movies are usually held until the fall and winter, to better position themselves for awards consideration. I don’t think that is going to be a problem here. Clever and humorous, poignant and screwy, “Away We Go” is simply satisfying on every level.Rating: A+