Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Away We Go

Posted on Wed, Jul 1, 2009 at 4:00 AM

****
Critic's Pick Away We Go
Director: Sam Mendes
Screenwriter: Sam Mendes
Cast: John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Chris Messina, Melanie Lynskey, Paul Schneider, Carmen Ejogo, Catherine Oâ??Hara, Jeff Daniels, Allison Janney, Jim Gaffigan, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Josh Hamilton
Release Date: 2009-07-01
Rated: R
Genre: Film
Our Rating: 4.00

Rarely have I felt quite as peculiarly that a film was winking its ass off at me as I did watching Sam Mendes’s — yep, that Sam Mendes’s — Away We Go. To wit: Krasinski and Rudolph are Burt and Verona, practically (but not) married 30-somethings, searching for the right city and circumstances within which to become parents. He’s excitable, unshaven, vaguely physically suggestive of a good-natured drifter. She’s organized, levelheaded — more or less, she vigilantly ensures that he leaves the house wearing pants. Personally? Near-bullseye on almost all counts. So, not that my wife (nearing 30) and I (close enough to high-five and/or share an innocent-but-sexy Lady and the Tramp noodle with 30) are the willful demographic, necessarily, but it does feel a bit like the dude hacked into our household constitution/zeitgeist.

How’s the film, then? Good. Touching. Winsome and funny throughout — rather brilliantly and explosively funny in several moments. Maybe somewhat overdone in parts, but ultimately wholly satisfying. Krasinski charms, delivering exactly what you’d expect, in a role not light years removed from his beloved Office work, yet clearly a different (and more likable?) character. Rudolph, given the chance to showcase the for-real dramatic presence that occasionally surfaced in moments on SNL, does so, and delights. A giddily goofball parade of notables/comedic geniuses (O’Hara/Daniels/Janney/Gaffigan/Gyllenhaal) — Burt and Verona’s kith and kin — skews a bit broad at times, but more than pays off in belly-laughs. And while the picture is, like Garden State before it, somewhat distractingly overloaded with the textbook trappings of studio indiehood (quirkish-yet-dialed-back protagonists; minimalist, almost showily unshowy cinematography; Wes Anderson-ish block titles; a hip, mostly single-artist soundtrack that, though pretty, draws a hair too much attention to itself `including that very-nice-but-overused “Orange Sky” song and that “Golden Brown” track from Snatch`) — this is a relatively minor quibble, and the film ultimately shakes it. Writers Eggers and Vida make things small and tight and real again at just the right moment, and the home stretch is thoroughly rewarding.

As it happens, I haven’t caught Jarhead, and have seen only segments of Road to Perdition. One needn’t be a completist, though, to be keenly aware that Away We Go sticks out amid Mendes’s filmography. It’s fun, it’s filled with heart, its principals are surprisingly well-adjusted and likable. Sort of the anti-Revolutionary Road. Admittedly, I hadn’t really connected with his work before; I have now.

For the heck of it, though: Ask me again in 10 years.

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