Thursday, June 11, 2009

Away We Go: A Happy Ending that I Can Believe

Away We Go (Sam Mendes, 2009) (Park Lane) In the opening 10-15 minutes of Away We Go, a dispirited and recently pregnant Verona (Maya Rudolph) turns to her partner Burt (John Krasinski, of The Office fame), and asks the simple question: "Are we fuck ups?" Burt assures her that they are not.

But as I sat in the theater, already in love with this film, I knew that the real answer was "yes."

There I sat in the dark, in every way as fucked up as Verona and Burt - young, unmarried, not overly successful or stylish by the standards of grocery store checkout line magazines, and largely without community roots - and wanted to tell her that I understood exactly why she felt that way. Yes, they probably are pretty "fucked up," and that that is absolutely fine: I already knew that these were truly beautiful people and that I would love to have them over for the barbecue that I am planning...

Away They Go
So Verona and Burt hit the road, travelling across the United States and into Canada to visit friends and family in search of a "home" - a community to nestle into, feel a part of, and raise their little daughter in. During their travels, they are exposed to numerous examples of how "family" can manifest itself and what "success" can mean: in Phoenix they meet Verona's former co-worker (Alison Janney), who could mount a serious bid for worst mother of the century; in Tucson, they meet Verona's sister (Carmen Ejogo), who constantly pushes Verona to recall their long-deceased parents; in ???? they visit Burt's childhood friend (the always enjoyable Maggie Gyllenhaal), who is a "cuckoo for coco puffs" spiritually aware mother in the most patronizingly detestable manner; and in Montreal, they meet the possibly perfect couple with a gaggle of adopted kids but a secret torment over Mom's inability to conceive.

And along the way Verona and Burt start to learn what family, success, and community mean to them, as is the tradition of the great American road movie. These lessons are divided by city into vignettes of a sort, and are not maudlin or cliche in anyway - they are incredibly poignant and heartwarming, and touched me deeply. One of the strongest of these moments for me was the scene where the young couple lay in their hotel room in Phoenix, with the shadow of the "mom from hell" hanging over them. As Burt reassures Verona, we see a shadow of sadness cross her eyes as she buries her face into the pillow and laments that no one else seems to be in love the way that they are.

Sounds sappy, I know - but this is only one of several points in Away We Go when tears of tenderness and joy welled up in my eyes - where I felt an aching to be inside the beauty of the relationship I was watching. Indeed, I was truly moved by this film.

Not All Sentimental "Crap"
But Away We Go is not a tearjerker at its core - I am just a sucker for over romanticizing these things :) The film is essentially half road movie in the vein that Cameron Crowe's Elizabethtown claimed to be/tried to be/so disappointingly was not, and half unabashed romantic comedy - and nothing gets me running to the theatre quicker than the newest summer rom-com. (Sarcasm anyone?)

Our saving grace on the rom-com front is that the romance is real and the comedy is side-splitting. Krasinski is far from a great actor, while Rudolph has a gift for displaying subtle emotions with her facial expression, but the bottom line is that as characters Verona and Burt are very likable people and their on-screen chemistry is undeniable. There is a tenderness that is endearing and altogether absent in much of the rom-com fodder we are subjected to.

Away We Go also delivers on the comedy front, keeping the theatre in stitches for much of the movie's 98 minutes and effectively counterbalancing its more serious themes of life, love, and community. While the opening scene is almost shocking and throws you off kilter in an "uncomfortable laugh" kind of way, the film keeps up a stream of good-natured humour that never sinks to the crass - keep your ears perked for the pregnant seahorse discussion. I read Dave Eggers' "You Shall Know Our Velocity" and enjoyed it, but I had no idea he could write such sparkling comedic dialogue.

Let's End on a High Note
The credits role on Verona and Burt as they arrive at their new home, where we have no doubt that they will love and cherish each other for eternity and raise a cute and precocious little girl: a happy ending that I believe and that I left the theatre virtually aglow with. Indeed, the crisp, cool Halifax air seemed cleaner and made me feel somehow more alive and the outlines of the buildings and telephone poles seemed sharper and more solid - my whole word seemed imbued with a sense of optimism.

Can you tell that I liked this film? Can you tell that I recommend it highly? Thanks for the tickets Jess :)

I may even forgive Sam Mendes for Revolutionary Road if he keeps this up....

1 comment:

Jess said...

I agree with your assessment of Away We Go -- and Revolutionary Road, which is one of my favorite books and was highly disappointing on the big screen. Thanks for sharing!