Review: Away We Go: A Sweet, Strange, and Sentimental Journey

"A pleasurable, gentle, touchingly sincere journey."

 

How to scare yourself when you're expecting: Take a plane-train-and-automobile tour of your friends' dysfunctional child-rearing skills.

That's exactly what longtime, thirty-something couple Burt (The Office's John Krasinski) and Verona (SNL ex, Maya Rudolph) decide to do in the new Sam Mendes-driven joy ride Away We Go. Though their intent is to find a place to raise their firstborn near the support of loved ones, rather than induce parenting nightmares.

Why leave their ramshackle Colorado, trailer-esque love shack, other than because of the cardboard windows? Burt's parents, the reason they originally chose to live in the state, Gloria and Jerry (played by Catherine O'Hara and Jeff Daniels), have made the oddly inconsiderate decision to rent their house and move to Belgium, only a few months before Verona's due date. So away the abandoned duo goes on a cross-country quest to visit/evaluate friends and family in Arizona, Wisconsin, and beyond.

As they adventure, the pair make comic pit stops to savor some absurdly hilarious scenery, including the site of Gloria's inappropriately sultry bathtub birth of her son (which was attended by firemen), to visit with Verona's former boss (Lilly, played by Allison Janney) who drunkenly smack-talks about her spawn, and to catch up with Burt's "cousin" LN (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who ends up educating them on her "three Ss" approach to parenthood -- "no sugar, no separation, no strollers."

Meanwhile Burt's awkward attempts to turn the tribulations of motherhood (shrinking breasts, weight gain, etc.) into laughs sometimes feel more awkward than amusing. Though awkwardness may be part of the movie's charm. Burt and Verona search not only for a home for their daughter but their place in a clearly crazy world. Worrying that their lack of roots and material accomplishments at their ages make them not only unlikely parents but all-around "f*ck-ups," they realize growing up is hard to do, especially in your 30s.

In Away We Go, director Sam Mendes does what he does best: He exposes the tender, flawed, often ridiculously imperfect underbelly of human relationships and sentiments. This time at a more understated, easygoing pace than that of Revolutionary Road's quicksand rush. Quiet tender exchanges and unexpected pathos provide the film's shining moments, with Burt and Verona's sweet, steady love for each other as the gas that helps the movie get where it's going. But not, of course, without the soft, soulful, rambling folk-guitar serenade of Scottish singer-songwriter Alexi Murdoch. His broad, lush, lovely notes set the pitch-perfect tone for Away We Go's atmosphere and pacing. It's the film's emotional heartbeat, a frequent scene-stealer as essential as any character, and the appropriate match for Rudolph's deftly delivered Verona -- a subtly funny and endearingly anxious young mother-to-be -- and Krasinski's dorkily supportive and affectionate Burt.

Away We Go is a pleasurable, gentle, touchingly sincere journey (with some wonderfully kooky bumps in the road) to the heart of the matters of relationships. And finally, an honest fairytale about ordinary love.

Grade: B+