Downbeat Comedy Slows ‘Away We Go’
John Krasinski, who stars in "Away We Go," suggests that it be seen together with "Revolutionary Road" as a kind of bookend experience.
It makes some sense. Both are directed by Sam Mendes, and as Krasinski points out, they're inverse images: One ("Road") is a film about a man and woman searching for happiness who don't love each other. The other ("Away") is a film about a man and woman doing much the same thing, but who do love each other.
But there's a problem with this exercise. For one, it would mean suffering through "Revolutionary Road," as depressing a film experience as one could imagine. For another, while "Away We Go" is a better film, it's not exactly a nonstop barrel of laughs; a double bill might be too much to take.
Krasinski plays Burt, a happy-go-lucky sort whose girlfriend Verona (Maya Rudolph) is pregnant. (We learn this in the first scene in what must be the most-unconventional manner, ever.) A visit to Burt's self-involved parents (Jeff Daniels and Catherine O'Hara) reveals that they're moving out of the country, so whatever help with the baby they were hoping for will leave right along with them.
Panicked, they embark upon a road trip, visiting friends and family members around the country, looking for a place they might call home; along the way they attempt to find themselves, as they say, as well. First stop: Phoenix, where they check in on Verona's former co-worker Lily (Allison Janney) and her family. Lily's an absolute loon, saying whatever comes to mind.
Everyone they visit, in fact, has some sort of overdone idiosyncrasy that sets off alarms. Childhood friend LN — say it out loud — is a militant New Ager, railing against evil devices such as strollers ("Why would you push the baby away from you?"); if you didn't realize such a creature existed, Maggie Gyllenhaal's hilarious, creepy performance may convince you otherwise.
The most interesting thing about Burt and Verona's relationship is its status. Verona's parents are dead, so, while she loves Burt, she is adamant that they will never marry, because her mother can't see it happen. That word, in fact — "never" — carries the most weight and power of any in the film.
But while many expecting couples experience doubts and fears, Verona's threaten to consume her. Rudolph, a "Saturday Night Live" veteran, has great comic chops (as does Krasinski; see "The Office"), but here she's relentlessly downbeat. The acting is good, but it's wearing, ultimately exhausting for the audience; one shudders to think what things must be like for poor Burt.
Mendes, working from a script by husband-and-wife hipsters Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, ends things in a vaguely haunting way without really resolving them, which is a good thing. Home is where you find it and life is full of doubts, for Burt and Verona and the rest of us, as well.
Rated R for language and some sexual content.
AWAY WE GO (R) Two and one-half stars (Fair to Good)
John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph star in director Sam Mendes' film about a couple expecting a baby who hit the road, looking for a home. They encounter luridly idiosyncratic friends and relatives; Rudolph's character's fears threaten to consume her. Not the comedy you might expect, Mendes instead touches on the doubts present in any relationship. Sort of his specialty. Focus Features. 98 minutes.