Diesel Box Office: Away We Go
Professor Honeydew was recently invited to a Diesel Box Office screening of Away We Go, which will be released across the country on June 26th. Here are his thoughts on the film.
Where expectations are concerned, Away We Go is a film with a healthy amount to live up to. At the directorial helm is Sam Mendes, a veteran of turning his incisive eye toward life in the United States in works including American Beauty and Revolutionary Road. Celebrated author Dave Eggers and wife Vendela Vida share co-writing credits in their first venture in the realm of screenplays.
Bringing their words to life is a cast of familiar, beloved faces, many of whom have made their mark on the small screen: there is SNL alumna (and onetime Rentals vocalist) Maya Rudolph, rendered larger than life–both in scale and in terms of the tumescent tummy of her character’s pregnancy–alongside Jon Krasinski, best known in households across the country as Jim Halpert, Pam Beasley’s goofy love interest in NBC’s version of The Office. Popping in along the way are Allison Janney (famous for her flawless years on The West Wing), Maggie Gyllenhaal (as a brazenly breastfeeding bit of new age fallout) and Jim Gaffigan (whose rise to fame as a comedian was almost singlehandedly engineered by programming execs at Comedy Central).
In short, the talent here is bountiful and varied–but what of the results?
Rather than propel the narrative by having events happen to our two protagonists, Burt and Verona, Away We Go instead ushers the pair through a series of vignettes where life befalls those on their periphery. These characters enter into and out of the film without much in the way of meaning, the “lessons” they impart to the young lovers coming in the form of overblown character tropes. Burt and Verona spend time with these personalities while undertaking an international tour of cities, and this courtship of different places shares the same incidental feeling. None of the cities’ personalities shine through in any substantive way or serve a greater metaphorical role. Rather, they are just settings for scenes to unfold in, much as Janney’s alcohol perfumed, child hating hijinks as Lily–while well acted–aren’t instructive on anything other than how to not raise a family.
If, in the end, the purpose of their travels is to discover the proper place to put down roots, Burt and Verona ultimately base their opinions not on the character or possibilities of a given place, but instead on what sort of life their friends have chosen to live there. Which, again, brings us to the heart of the matter. Whether you think Away We Go is cinematic feast or famine will hinge largely on this question: how comfortable are you sharing ninety minutes with two protagonists to whom nothing much really happens?
As a viewer, your feelings toward these parents-to-be is cemented rather early on: though floating in the breeze, they are smart and share an artful love which one can’t help but admire. And in the end… well, they are still floating on, still loving deeply, still that unified twosome we all aspire toward. But is that enough?
To be sure, there are spades of compelling facets twinkling away at the end of that projector’s beam. Krasinski, whom we all know plays the lovable goof with aplomb, has more emotional range in his eyes and smile in this one film than most actors can muster in a career. His portrayal of compassion and earnestness belie what has up until now been a slapsticky sort of pedigree, and will ensure that a more diversified load of scripts pass over his agent’s desk.
Perhaps as a result of their own relationship, Eggers and Vida have a keen eye for rendering tangible some of the ineffable comforts and tenderness which characterize true romance. Their script provides Krasinki and Rudolph a touching canvas upon which to paint their love with finely nuanced strokes. For her part, Rudolph turns in a great performance–to a certain point. When things get too heavy, as in a scene with her sister Grace (Carmen Ejogo), Rudolph’s words can’t quite strike the necessary tone of believability. Unlike her work in the film’s more lighthearted moments, here we find Rudolph acting at the character of Verona instead of simply inhabiting her.
Away We Go plays its laughs intelligently; my screening regularly brought the sort of prolonged guffaws that obliterate subsequent punchlines. Its sense of humor, quirky though never forced, is genuine and effective. It also prevents things from ever stumbling toward heavy-handedness, which is always a fear with any film that evokes adjectives such as “bittersweet.” Ultimately, Away We Go‘s comedic value is the most compelling reason to give it a shot, and a strong one at that.
In the film’s final scene (no spoilers here), Burt and Verona sit hand in hand, looking out into the distance, ruminating upon what will happen next. Unfortunately, viewers are apt to find themselves in a similar position, staring up at that expanse of screen, wondering when the story will begin as Away We Go fades to black.