Friday, September 11, 2009

Away We Go

Impending parenthood is always stressful, but for slacker 30-somethings still trying to find their place in the world it’s especially traumatic. Away We Go follows a grown-up couple who should have life figured out by now, but instead find themselves drifting from place to place across the North American continent as they attempt to find a spot that feels right to start their new family. It’s a pretty simple concept, but in the hands of director Sam Mendes along with screenwriters Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida it becomes a rollicking and insightful road movie.

My initial fears about the film were that SNL alum Maya Rudolph would struggle in a dramatic/romantic role, and that Mendes was far too serious and high-profile for what’s really a small, quirky film. Thankfully, both fears proved to be completely unfounded. While the chemistry between Rudolph and co-star John Krasinski is practically non-existent, Rudolph turns in a completely convincing performance as the very pregnant girlfriend, nailing her key dramatic moments with soulful, heartfelt emotion. As for Krasinski, he’s his usual doofy, lovable self, just with unfortunate facial hair and nerdy glasses. Back to the chemistry: sure, Rudolph and Krasinski play cute and play off each other well, but there’s never really a sense that they’re a believable couple. As for Mendes, he keeps his touch light and allows the witty script to carry the film, giving it a perfect tone.

As the couple visits friends and family across the continent, they basically play the straight characters to all the other nuts. The situations they encounter border on the outlandish and unbelievable, but they’re played in such a matter-of-fact way that they don’t come off like phony rom-com scenarios, allowing the film to maintain a strong emotional core rather than surrender to cheap laughs. The most outrageous scene, and the closest to derailing the film’s intentions, is the over-the-top hippie lovenest inhabited by earth mother Maggie Gyllenhaal and long-haired peacenik Josh Hamilton. Their characters’ home allows all the children to sleep in the huge parental bed, bans strollers because they don’t want to be “pushing their children away from them”, and finds the mother nursing neighbor kids as well as her own far-too-old kids.

The film seems a bit contrived in its motivation to get characters from one destination to the next, frequently leaving me wondering why they were moving on save as an excuse to meet some more crazies. However, when it connects it really works, generating serious laughs and emotional heft. It’s a feel-good tale that will leave lovers young and old smiling about their own relationships.

Away We Go is available on DVD and Blu-Ray on September 29th. If you’re just interested in the movie, this really isn’t a title that benefits from enhanced Blu-Ray quality as its source video and audio material is a bit murky and flat, a perfectly fitting stylistic choice but not a technologically impressive one. For what it’s worth, the Blu-Ray picture is full 1080p, although audio tops out at 5.1 DTS-HD. However, the Blu-Ray does contain exclusive access to BD Live features, primarily the option to bookmark your favorite scenes and then share with your BD Live buddies. The BD Live features were not yet available at press time. Other bonus features available to both DVD and Blu-Ray customers include a featurette on the making of the film, as well as a “green filmmaking” featurette that details the production team’s efforts to make an environmentally friendly film.

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