Life rarely goes as planned. Relationships end unexpectedly, loved ones die before we’re ready, and people continue to let us down. But the filmmakers behind Away We Go understand the simple truth that if one has the desire to push forward and is lucky enough to be surrounded by loving people, a person can get through nearly all of life’s absurd difficulties. Director Sam Mendes (Revolutionary Road, American Beauty) has become famous for exploring the painfully realistic dark side of human relationships. Here he crafts a more optimistic story while remaining true to life’s less desirable circumstances. Part romance, part road trip, Away We Go is one of the most hopeful films to reach the theaters in a long time.
The story centers on Burt (John Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph), an unmarried couple in their early thirties living in a modest trailer-home in rural Colorado near Burt’s parents. From the very beginning of the movie it is obvious that these two are deeply in love with each other. Not because they have some sort of steamy passionate sexual chemistry or because there is some horrible obstacle preventing them from their unquenched lust, but because of the unnamable connection that is painfully obvious when seeing two people like Verona and Bert. They are simply made for each other.
The two have recently become pregnant and after news that Burt’s parents are leaving the country for two years (Verona’s are dead) they begin to wonder if it might be time for them to leave as well. They eventually decide to set out on a road trop across the continental United States, stopping off to visit friends and relatives, in search of a new home for their soon-to-be family of three.
While the story is centered around the relationship between Burt and Verona, Away We Go also works well as a road movie. The beautiful American landscapes take on an almost meditative quality when complimented by the subtly poignant sounds of Alexi Murdoch, doing here what Eddie Vedder wished he had done in 2007’s Into the Wild. As the audience member watches these scenes, they too begin to question what it means to really move in their own life.
If there is one misstep in the film it comes from the scenes involving the secondary characters that Verona and Burt meet along the way. Two characters especially, the over the top new-age hippie LN (Maggie Gyllenhaal), and Lily (Allison Janney), the unhappy wife and mother of two who has resigned to a sort of constant half-drunkeness while she makes fun of her children and husband. The scenes that take place in Montreal also border on the saccharine. It is here that the husband and wife writing duo of Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida think they’re being much more profound then they actually are.
However, the strength of Krasinski and Rudolph, two newcomers to this sort of film, provides enough to keep the train from completely derailing. The scenes that only involve Burt and Verona are so well done that they alone are enough to recommend the film. Many critics have criticized Away We Go for lacking conflict and being too empty, but if the viewer is willing to believe that relationships can actually work despite life’s difficulties, there is much to be gained from viewing the film. At the end of the year, Away We Go, will most likely not be on too many “Best Of” lists, but at least for this viewer, it will definitely be remembered as one of the year’s most enjoyable.