Monday, August 17, 2009

Film Review: Away We Go

Away We Go (A-)

I imagine the new film Away We Go to be different films to different people at different times in their lives (although I’m sure sections of it ring true no matter one’s age). I found Sam Mendes’s new film, about a 34 year old man and his pregnant wife traveling from city to city in the hopes of finding a suitable place to settle down and begin their new life with child, a truly wonderful film about the intimacy of life that makes life feel so much more epic. In short, I found Away We Go to be one of the best films of the year.

Burt (John Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph) are both in their mid-thirties; she’s six-months pregnant with their first child. After his parents decide their moving to Belgium, leaving the couple without any family nearby, Burt and Verona decide to pack up and check out America (with a stop-over in Montreal) in the hopes of finding a suitable place to settle down. They choose Phoenix, Madison, Montreal, and Miami, and their journey begins.

I’ve read several reviews that have reflected upon the film in a negative manner. Most of the criticism revolves around the main couple and how they project a smug superiority over all of the individuals they encounter on their journey. How many of the characters such as Allison Janney’s and Maggie Gyllenhall’s are mere gross caricatures used for cheap laughs and manipulative end means, so by the time the film concludes, you can’t help but identify with Burt and Verona as the only two sane people in the crazy universe put on display. These critics seem to believe the writers of the picture, authors Vendela Vida and David Eggers, project a series of stereotypes as grotesques in order to feel far, far beyond the reproach of these creations with the exception Burt and Verona, whose mindsets are obvious stand-ins for the screenwriters.

Since when hasn’t a person felt superior to another? Since when hasn’t an individual listened to another’s point of view or simply judged another on appearance before thinking to him or herself, “This person is a fucking idiot.” Is it wrong to be honest even if that honesty reveals something less than pleasant? To me, Vida and Eggers have not created these characters to ridicule a segment of society, but to reflect it. People like the characters presented here in this film are real. Hurtful? Maybe. Mean? Possibly. Truthful? Yes. Besides, it’s poor viewing to call all of the characters Burt and Verona encounter “cartoonish losers.” One of the strongest scenes in recent cinema revolves around a monologue given by Chris Messina as the couple’s friend, Tom; he tells Burt how his wife has miscarried for the fifth time. How Tom and his wife attempt to fill the emotional holes each miscarriage creates provides for terrible sadness, but also amazement at the resiliency of some people. “You have to be so much better than you ever thought you could be,” says Munch (Melanie Lynskey), Tom’s wife. This scene and others reflect a common decency in people not mentioned in the negative reviews.

Also, I don’t believe Burt and Verona believe themselves to be better than the family/friends/associates they encounter; I believe them to all be part of a cultural landscape filled with all types. Early in the film, Verona asks the question, “Are we fuck-ups?” and the question is valid, truthful, and sharp. No matter one’s age, I believe a strong signal of disappointment pulses in everyone when chronicling the choices made/not made in life. I often ask myself this question and my answer inevitably sways towards a “Yes.” But this disappointment doesn’t sink either Burt and Verona nor should it disappoint anyone who answers in the affirmative. Instead, such an admission should further stoke individuals to constantly strive to do better. Failure isn’t the end of the world; it’s simply a word that’s been used to have a negative connotation over the years to pull people down instead of lifting people up. Yes, Burt and Verona are fuck-ups, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Self-realization can be used for individuals to re-examine their lives, their perspectives, their morals, their biases. Nothing wrong with that even if the film doesn’t necessarily delve deeply into either Burt or Verona’s psyche.

Away We Go isn’t without flaws. The simple fact Burt and Verona embark on this odyssey seems a little inauthentic; most people, even people like Burt and Verona who do not seem especially wealthy, cannot simply pick up and fly around the country just because they feel like it. People who find themselves in the predicament the main characters find themselves in are not allowed the luxury to move around; socio-economic factors often limit people and keep them within certain boundaries, physical and mental. But the emotional journey Burt and Verona undertake does seem authentic. Krasinski and especially Rudolph are both outstanding. And by the end of their journey, I felt their decision to isolate themselves by embracing a part of Verona’s past reflected a true declaration common in life: you can go home again, you just need to make it your own.

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