Away We Go (John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph) – Sam Mendes won an Academy Award as director of American Beauty. While Away We Go isn’t quite American Beauty II, it follows a similar path. This is unusual and quirky to say the least. It is also a very engaging film. The plot centers on a loving, committed couple, Burt and Verona, portrayed by John Krasinski of Leatherheads and TV’s The Office and Maya Rudolph, best known for Saturday Night Live and as a bit character in a number of movies. While they may seem like an oddly matched couple, that is the joy of the film. They are both a bit strange but they love each other; and they’re about to have a baby. Although she works as an illustrator and he as an insurance salesman, neither works through the life of the movie. She draws once and he has an interview with a company in Wisconsin to try to get a better commission level. But work is not any part of this story. It is a road trip. Convinced that they might just be losers, they set out to visit friends and relatives in the hope of picking a new city to live in where they know someone. Their journeys take them to Arizona, Wisconsin, Montreal and Miami. Along the way, we meet an interesting set of characters, most of whom appear normal and happy to start. But as we get to know them, they are odder than our protagonists. The best of these cameos belongs to Allison Janney, who seems to be getting these wonderful small roles. She is so funny and outspoken here that you can’t help but love her, even in her weirdness. And Maggie Gyllenhaal plays yet another weird character; she seems to specialize in them.
This is a very funny movie. In fact, for some in the audience in my theater, it was laugh- out-loud, miss-the-next-line funny. For my wife and I, it was lots of smiles. For this type of movie, that is high praise. Even higher praise from me is that it held my total attention for the entire film – no fighting my eyelids. In an action movie, that’s one thing. But in a comedy, dialogue-heavy, music-laden film, it’s practically a miracle today. Mendes is brilliant at pacing a film and in drawing out performances you don’t expect. Think of Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening and the youngsters in American Beauty. Krasinski and Rudolph are not box office stars like Spacey and Bening so the movie is playing the art houses. But both are fine actors – mostly from television – who are easy to like here even though they are free spirits who actually hold very traditional values. Bearded Burt is disheveled and bespectacled even in the bedroom scenes. Maya won’t get married because her parents can’t be there because, well, they’re dead. But they’re nice kids trying to find a suitable home for their new baby. As the film moves along, the laughs become fewer and the poignancy begins. The movie hits its stride early and never loses it. Kudos to Mendes and his cast.