if halpert went all cousin eddie. The problem after viewing the new Sam Mendes film Away We Go is that all those adjectives leap to mind - "quirky," "offbeat," "oddball" - that have been used for films like Juno, Little Miss Sunshine, and Sunshine Cleaning.
But this movie is all three of those adjectives and more. And as good as those other movies were, Away We Go treats a well-established cinema cliché (the road movie) with freshness and originality fueled by some great performances and an inventive script from Dave Eggers and Velenda Vida, the married literary powerhouse duo. What's particularly novel about this movie is the depiction of the adolescent uncertainties of an adult couple in their 30s. They are out to answer the question they ponder in the first fifteen minutes, "Are we fuck ups?"
John Krasinski (The Office) and Maya Rudolph (Saturday Night Live) are relatively new faces on the big screen as Burt and Verona, an unmarried and pregnant couple trying to find a place to call home. They flee their home in Denver after Burt's parents, played brilliantly by Jeff Daniels and Catherine O'Hara, announce they are moving to Europe for two years - just a month before their first grandchild arrives.
So we follow Burt and Verona to Phoenix and an old co-worker as they try this city on for size, and where we are treated to two more outstanding cameos by Allison Janney and Jim Gaffigan as a whacko couple who have spent way, way too much time in the sun. A stop in Madison yields an appearance by Maggie Gyllenhaal as a spaced-out earth mother who seems ready to breast feed anything that walks upright. This bit, however, becomes tiresome well before its 12 minutes are done.
Away We Go manages to keep a smile on your face while maintaining focus on the struggles of its main characters, though its first 40 minutes are more entertaining than the final sixty. You care about Burt and Verona and wonder why she resists his proposals to marry. And although the characters dancing around them as they jump from Phoenix to Tucson to Madison to Miami may seem somewhat surreal, they never do.
What Krasinski, in particular, does so well here is use his face as punctuation. He has that man-boy look, which enhances your belief that Burt is truly wrestling with the question he posed to Verona early on. In Burt, Krasinski creates a self-confidence that's wafer thin. And Rudolph provides the perfect, and believable, foil. She holds her ground beautifully.
Away We Go is another example, as if we needed one, that story is everything in movies. It should be mentioned that Alexi Murdoch's score buoys you along as you quietly root for Burt and Verona in their journey home. And it's the kind of support you can take with you when the movie's done.Away We Go ★★★✩
Rated R. Directed by Sam Mendes. Written by Dave Eggers and Velenda Vida. Starring John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph.