Monday, June 29, 2009
Nog Sees Away We Go!
After the domestic warfare of American Beauty and Revolutionary Road, I suppose it's kind of nice to see Mendes make a film about a healthy, loving couple (although I'm not sure this is exactly what I want or expect from Mendes). Burt and Verona, played by John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph, are smart, socially aware, in love, on the verge of having a baby, and suddenly wondering if they're irresponsible "fuck-ups" (as they put it, in a memorable conversation). Having nothing in particular to tie them down (she's an artist, he sells insurance over the phone, forcing him to be fake in a way that she finds infuriating), they embark on a road trip to visit various friends and family members and figure out the best place to settle and raise a family. Like all road movies, Away We Go is episodic, but each of the couple's stops is interesting and all the supporting characters are memorable and well-acted (if deliberately over-the-top). Some critics feel the film is too condescending toward the various "types" encountered along the way, who seem to represent varying attitudes toward raising children (such as the uninentionally smothering earth mother played by Maggie Gyllenhaal and the outrageously neglectful and likely alcoholic Allison Janney). And I suppose it is, although I don't see that as a problem (obviously, we're meant to champion the reasoned approach taken by Burt and Verona, who seem like they'll make excellent parents). The film is written by the authors Dave Eggers and his wife Vendela Vida, and some will find it equal parts smug and sentimental, but it's generally sharp and often very funny. Mendes is working in a new style here that lacks the meticulous composition of everything else he's done. It's suited to the material , and he still finds room for a striking visual here and there, although personally I miss the Mendes of Beauty and Revolutionary Road. But the central performances are the most impressive thing here. Krasinski and Rudolph are TV veterans, but they don't feel (as I feared) like they've been plucked out of some sitcom world and set loose on the big-screen (as so often happens). Although Krasinski, especially, is playing the same kind of ultra-likable guy as his Office character, Burt feels very real. I know guys like this. And Rudolph is even better. I'm not a particular fan of her SNL work but this is a real performance with a couple of powerful speeches, nicely delivered, near the end. And if I had not been seated in a "Fork and Screen" near a man more interested in discussing the price of his quesadillas with the waiter, I might have been quite moved by them!