Each Sam Mendes film deals with the theme of isolation. The longing to escape, to flee, to become someone else. His latest, Away We Go, is no different. So it is with great pleasure to announce that Away We Go is unlike anything Sam Mendes has ever done.
What if Scorsese made a musical? What if Wes Anderson helmed a Holocaust drama? Their essence would be there, their tone and feel, but the subject matter and style would be completely different. That’s Away We Go. Instead of Thomas Newman’s smooth, cunning score, we get a slew of folksy (yet appropriate) songs from Alex Murdoch. Instead of Conrad L. Hall’s (American Beauty, Road to Perdition) and Roger Deakins’ (Jarhead, Revolutionary Road) shadowy, intense cinematography, we get Ellen Kuras’ open, bright lens.
The beauty of this film starts with Mendes’ bold choice in actors. Leads John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph are known for television comedy (The Office and Saturday Night Live, respectively) but here, they both show remarkable depth and genuine heartfelt emotion.
“Are we fuckups?,” Verona asks Burt one cold evening. At first, you’ll think yes, but the truth is, they are anything but. The couple is excited about having the child Verona is six months pregnant with, but they long for something more. When they find out Burt’s hilariously bewildered parents are moving to Antwerp, the couple decides to trek across the country, in search of a new place to call home.
Their ventures take them to Phoenix, Madison, Miami and even Canada. We get the zany co-worker (Allison Janney, remember her as the emotionally dead mother in American Beauty?), the way-too-out-there friend (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and other family and friends that take Burt and Verona in for a brief stint of time. But the transcendental highlight of the film is when our sturdy couple goes to Montreal to visit some old college friends (Chris Messina, Melanie Lynskey). There, we discover an impossibly happy, albeit mixed, family who all help take care of each other. But things aren’t exactly what they appear. In this chapter, Messina delivers a monologue inside a faux strip club that will leave you speechless. It’s poignant, perceptive and amazingly real. Messina (who you’ve seen as Rebecca Hall’s smart, conservative, and clueless boyfriend in Vicky Christina Barcelona) should get a Supporting Actor nomination based solely on the delivery of that one speech. Classic stuff.
Thank writers Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida for giving Mendes such a great blueprint. In all honesty, I can’t say enough about this picture. It kept me laughing, longing, and guessing until its last frame.
Away We Go is bound to be compared as the “Little Miss Sunshine of the year”, “the Juno of 2009”, “the little indie wonder that could”. Problem is, it’s better than those films; in fact, Away We Go is the most emotionally satisfying movie-going experience I’ve had so far this year. Let it take you. A