Away We Go starts with a sex scene. There's no nudity, it's not overtly graphic, but it's unexpected and a bit jarring. It's certainly not the overture I was predicting. But just as I was starting to get uncomfortable, the moment becomes quite humorous. The hilarity of the scene is grounded in the screenplay (which was written by Dave Eggers and his wife Vendela Vida), but brought to life by John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph. Known for their respective work on The Office and Saturday Night Live, the duo's comedic chops may not come as a surprise, but here these two are playing it pretty straitlaced. It's this juxtaposition that makes the film so good — seeing funny people playing serious roles with serious situations that end up being funny.
It's a formula that's worked before. As I guessed from the trailer, the film is very similar in tone to Garden State and Juno. All three are quirky little gems with heavy subject matters and great soundtracks (seriously, check out Alexi Murdoch if you haven't already). If I had to fault the film with anything, it would be that it didn't feel particularly fresh, but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable.
To learn more about the film, and its cool costars,
The story follows Burt and Verona (Krasinski and Rudolph) on their quest to find a place to call home. They're about to have a baby and because Burt's proximately close parents (played by Jeff Daniels and the always hilarious Catherine O'Hara) are moving to Belgium, the two find themselves looking for someplace to live. Verona's parents are dead, so they decide to visit friends and relatives in various parts of North America and Canada where they could potentially set down roots. What ensues is a road story that finds the couple in Phoenix, Tucson, Madison, Montreal, and Miami.
Along the way we meet a variety of characters who run the gamut from looney and hilarious (specifically Allison Janney and Maggie Gyllenhaal's characters) to more subtle and subdued. And this goes back to the overall tone of the film: serious sprinkled with a dash of silly. It works most of the time, but occasionally the antics of Janney, Gyllenhaal, or O'Hara seem a little too far-fetched for what is ultimately a dramatic film. But these missteps are mostly forgivable as the actresses are so hysterically funny.
Then again, maybe these women's characters aren't supposed to be realistic or relatable. Maybe we're supposed to identify solely with Burt and Verona as they navigate through their journey. I certainly did. I also identified with the film's key message — that home is truly where the heart is. It's a refreshing idea coming from the director of the great but depressing American Beauty and Revolutionary Road.
Bottom Line: If you're looking to escape the typical Summer fare, Away We Go is a solid option.
Photo courtesy of Focus Features