Thursday, 3 May 2012

Away We Go (2009, Sam Mendes)

After visiting suburban angst twice now in his career; debut Oscar winning feature American Beauty (1999) and his last effort Revolutionary Road (2008) adapted from the Richard Yates novel of the same name. Both films were a statement on the American dream, the disillusionment felt when life doesn't plan out the way you wanted, or the way it was promised you. At the heart of both films were couples imploding and collapsing under the weight of adult life, rightly or wrongly turning against each other in the most horrendous of ways, punishing each other for negativity out of both their control. Refreshing then is the new film from Sam Mendes, which pits a rather endearing couple not against each other but against the world as they prepare to welcome a new life into it.

Away We Go can be described as both a road movie and romantic comedy, but whereas the film closely follows the formula of the former it's the approach towards the latter which sets this film high above the rest. The romantic comedy has been, since the beginning, a battle of sexes; we know they'll end up together in the end but the pleasure comes from the two destined-to-be character's obliviousness of their feelings being a product of love, not hate. Just think of the Howard Hawks' early comedies Bringing Up Baby (1939) and His Girl Friday (1940) for the most perfect examples. By modern standards the genre has devolved, displaying more sexist attitudes than ever typically present in the 1940s onwards, and with a new found cynicism and contempt for their rather unlikable and shallow characters. Surely in our age of equal rights these things should have been filtered out by now, not increased? Audiences don't seem to mind this problem and so neither does Hollywood.

Here we have an unmarried couple from the start, Burt (John Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph) live in a modest setting close to Burt's parents. Upon Verona's unexpected (but welcome) pregnancy and hearing of Burt's parents leaving to live in Belgium, the two set off on a trip to visit various family and friends to decide where their roots will be best settled to start a family. This is the disequilibrium present in Away We Go, there are no internal struggles between Burt and Verona, they love each other dearly and are only concerned about the upbringing of their baby.

In classic road movie style, each stop on the map introduces us to oddball larger than life characters that only seem to increase in vibrancy as the trip continues. Luckily there is a limit to the absurdity and doesn't overstay it's welcome. Each stop on the trip teaches Burt and Verona something about family and raising children, each is full of laughs and humour that never goes amiss; from Burt's parents (a brilliant Jeff Daniels and Catherine O'Hara) to Maggie Gyllenhaal as Burt's mad hippy cousin. Gyllenhaal is stellar and a sure standout, taking the humour from the harmless, to the unsettling, and all the way to the worrying. By the time our expecting couple have reached the near end of the trip they start to open up about their fears of parenthood, talking and reconciling each other over their insecurities. Seeing old college friends coping with yet another miscarriage and an unexpected trip to Burt's brother in miami remind them of the strains and trials life can could throw at them, however the two of them are ready to face it together with their undying love of each other. By this time we can only wish them the best.

Away We Go is a rare treat, a film with well drawn characters worth caring about, precision humour that never misses a beat, and an undercurrent of universial fear; the fear of parenthood that anyone can relate to whether they want kids or not. It's also an accurate portrayal of honest love (never sugar coated) and by the end we've been on an important journey with Burt and Verona, laughing and crying as they do. Away We Go has a sprinkle of Hollywood magic that's all to sparse these days and is a film worth embracing at all cost.