Wednesday, 9 December 2009


Now Showing
Universal Pictures

We usually have to wait some time between Sam Mendes films (three years between each of his first four), so the arrival of Away We Go less than a year after Revolutionary Road, for mine Mendes' best film, is a pleasant surprise. And after the trials of the suburban marital nightmare of the previous film, Away We Go comes as sweet relief.

Burt (John Krasinski of US TV's The Office) and Verona (Maya Rudolph) are a happily unmarried couple (Verona believes marriage is pointless despite Burt's constant proposals) expecting their first child. The announcement by Burt's parents (Jeff Daniels and Catherine O'Hara) that they will be moving to Antwerp before the birth of their grandchild, is the impetus for Burt and Verona to travel across north America in search of a new home to raise their family.

Each location – Phoenix, Madison, Montreal, and Miami – is determined by friends or family – an ex-employer (Allison Janney), a pseudo cousin (Maggie Gyllenhaal), college friends (Melanie Lynskey and Chris Messina) with a brood to rival Brangelina, and Burt's recently separated brother (Paul Schneider) - and either yay'd or nay'd by the state of these peoples' lives.

Some critics, notably the New York Times, dismissed this film and its two protagonists as smug, particularly in comparison to the borderline grotesques served up by Janney and Gyllenhaal, and the somewhat martyr-like couple in Montreal. And a case could be made for that argument.

But I rather think that Mendes, whose Revolutionary Road and debut feature American Beauty were both scathing indictments of middle class domesticity, and writers Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, a real life couple, have chosen to exalt the pros of coupledom and what it is exactly that comprises family and home, namely that home is where you find it, and family is what you make it.

That Burt and Verona seem to be relatively sane and well-adjusted in comparison to those they encounter, as well as the 30-somethings we are so often served up in movies, doesn't make them smug; novel, perhaps. But give me smug over stupid any day.

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