Friday, 12 March 2010

I Love My Babies! Why Would I Want To Push Them Away From Me?

I must confess that that line from the trailer, delivered by my love Maggie Gyllenhaal, was a big part of me wanting to see Away We Go. Well, Maggie Gyllenhaal is a good enough reason for me to see a film, period. But she just looked hilarious in this film, and she was. Pity the film didn't live up to what I was ultimately hoping for.

Co-written by Dave Eggars (he behind the script for Where The Wild Things Are), I was a little worried. For the most part I thoroughly enjoyed his memoirs A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius, though I think it got too much and went on for too long. For a lot of it, however, I thought it was terrific. Similarly, Away We Go has some very good elements, but I think he gets a little carried away with his own writing and fails to reign it in when he needs to, refocusing or truly realising the deeper possibilities of his subtext and smaller themes, swept along by his own grand narrative. And then, Sam Mendes, acclaimed theatre director who has previously made the very theatrical (in a sense - at least quasi-traditionalist and visually conservative) American Beauty, Road To Perdition, Jarhead (forgot he made that) and Revolutionary Road, now tackling an American indie film. Interesting.

Burt (John Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph) are an early-thirties couple about to have a baby. Unsure that they're mature enough to do it, though embracing the coming challenge wholeheartedly, they are dealt a blow when they break it to Burt's parents (Catherine O'Hara and Jeff Daniels) to be told that, a month before the baby is due, they are going to be moving to Belgium. As the proximity to Burt's parents was one of the reasons the couple were residing in that area of the world, they decide to go on a road trip to various cities around North America where they know people, hoping to find a place where they fit in and might want to call home. An hilarious cast of characters played by some fabulous people (Alison Janney, aforementioned Gyllenhaal, Melanie Lynskey, to name some of the bigger players) populate their road trip before Burt and Verona discover that a home is not necessarily about those around you, but rather what is there between you.

It's a clever script a lot of the time, notwithstanding what I mentioned above, and quite funny a lot of the time, especially with the hyped up caricatures, particularly from Gyllenhaal and Janney, but it doesn't really go anywhere. The nature of the episodic road trip breaks up the narrative, but also drags it a little into repetition - you keep wondering what is going wrong. And you also spend a lot of time wondering what inspired this couple to think that these people could be good people to surround themselves with, as for many of them they either didn't know them that well to start with, or haven't known them for some years. It all seems a little flighty and preposterous. 

Mendes also seems a little lost outside of his controlled comfort zone of sets and enclosed spaces (even the desert scenes in Jarhead were enclosed by their own epic scale), framing and directing by rote. The film lacked the complex visual stylings of his previous works - a two hander doesn't lend itself to the kind of composition I spoke about here. The performances were pretty solid, Krasinski and especially Rudolph managing to bring a little depth to their characters, with the supports hamming it up just enough to get the laughs and make the point without really lapsing over into hyperbole. But all in all... just a little blah. A little nothing. Nothing that bad, that's for sure, but just nothing very good either. 2.5 stars.

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