It’s easy to dismiss Away We Go as another quirky indie flick, rehashing the marmite tropes of the likes of Garden State, Juno and Little Miss Sunshine, but this is different. It’s captivatingly quirky and charming, with the right level of schmaltz. And, best of all, it’s a Sam Mendes film. That’s right, in between the likes of American Beauty and Skyfall, Mendes brought us a simple tale of a couple who take a road trip to find a suitable place to raise their unborn child.
Plot-wise, Away We Go is Mendes’ simplest film to date. Burt Farlander (John Krasinski, aka Mr Emily Blunt and star of the American version of The Office) and Verona De Tessant (Maya Rudolph, star of Bridesmaids and Saturday Night Live regular) are an unmarried thirty-something couple about to have their first child.
When Burt’s parents tell the expectant couple that they are going to move to Belgium right before the birth, the couple head off on the mother of all road trips to try and find the perfect place to settle down and raise their family.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that this kind of film isn’t the sort of project that Mendes would usually take on, but take a closer look at his back catalogue (Road to Perdition, Jarhead, Revolutionary Road) and you’ll soon realise that at the heart of his films are strong characters, close relationships and an inner struggle.
Working without composer Thomas Newman, for the first time in his filmic career, Mendes’ 2009 film features a soundtrack primarily made up of original music by Alexi Murdoch (you might recognise him from the Garden State soundtrack), with a splattering of George Harrison, The Stranglers, Bob Dylan and The Velvet Underground for good measure.
When an indie film has an ass-kicking soundtrack, the latter can sometimes trump the film. Fortunately, Away We Go’s soundtrack sets the tone of the film perfectly and is a fitting accompaniment.
What makes it so endearing is its subtlety. Rudolph’s mum-to-be says more with a slight inflection or eyebrow raise than any monologue, and Krasinski’s one-liners and gestures are hilarious. Real life couple Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida’s screenplay manages to be enchanting and heartfelt without being overly sentimental, and goes from touching to laugh-out-loud funny in a matter of seconds.
Travelling by plane, train and automobile takes Verona and Burt to Phoenix, Tucson, Madison, Montreal and Miami, catching up with family and old friends. The supporting cast features some of my favourite actors, including Maggie Gyllenhaal as Burt’s cousin, Melanie Lynskey as a college friend and Paul Schneider as Burt’s brother (recent indie greats include All the Real Girls, Elizabethtown and Lars and the Real Girl) who I genuinely believe is one of the most under-appreciated actors of this generation. The thinking woman’s Mark Ruffalo, if you will.
Each of their little pitstops sees a different type of family, usually dysfunctional, inevitably showing them the kind of life they don’t want to live. Like most road movies, this is a journey of self-discovery rather than simply being a case of getting from A to B.
Away We Go is now the best part of a decade old but it has lost none of its ability to reach out and tug at your heart strings.