When you first see the trailer for Sam Mendes’ Away We Go you wonder if its going to be another Juno: trying so hard to be cute and funny that all you want to do is start kicking it around like a retarded puppy.
This sentiment is misplaced. What Mendes has done is encapsulate an earnest relationship and its struggle to define itself with a baby on the way.
We’re introduced to Burt (John Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph) when they first find out they’ll be having a baby. Six months later, the couple begins a location scouting adventure for HOME after Burt’s parents (the couple’s sole connection to their humble abode) decide to move to Antwerp a month before the child is to be born.
Written by Dave Eggers and his wife Vendela Vida, the film is true to its name, whisking us along from locale to locale in chapter format. At each location Burt and Verona meet up with friends or acquaintances who, as representatives of their city, repel or attract the couple.
Less of a “travelogue” and more of a sampling of various parenting styles (from dismissive apathy to New Age s’mothering), Burt and Verona learn what they don’t want to do (be in the same bed with their child when they have sex) and the type of parents they’d like to be (let their kids be who they want to be).
The writing is superb, giving the cast room to bring on the funny. John Krasinski plays Burt well, spinning between demure and heroic without stealing the show, and who knew Maya Rudolph could bring so much with so little? As the oldest sister who carries both child and questions of identity (“Are we fuck ups?” she asks Burt), Rudolph keeps the film’s gravitas.
Away We Go, in comparison to Mendes’ previous work, trades in the visual pomp for natural compositions that work specifically for the type of intimacy Mendes’ is reaching for. After Revolutionary Road, in which a couple tear each other a part by looking inward, Away We Go presents another answer to the equation of coupledom, as Burt and Verona, together, face outward.
This “togetherness” dynamic keeps the film from being casually tossed into the “Romantic Comedy” bin. The usual rom-com format is boy and girl are together, break up, boy fights for girl, wins her over, end. Burt and Verona are never led down that path of conflict (though Mendes’ track record does give you worry for the couple). Throughout most of the film Burt and Verona are always within the same shot, rarely separated by closeups, enhancing their united front.
The film is simple, but poignant, and will hit you where it counts. As my friend Ben Creech once highlighted, what really makes a film is the audience’s connection to the piece. I personally found myself presented on celluloid when Burt idly speculates, “But what if I’m walking by a construction site and I get hit on my frontal lobe and then I’m a horrible person?” When speculating upon the future our decisions may deliver, everyone has the “what if’s?”. The film’s response, “We’ll take it as it comes, together,” rounds out a mature, nuanced comedy about relationships and what it’s really going to take to stick it out. Evidently, it will take a lot of syrup.