Away We Go
I had no idea these two were so tall, that Volvo is being dwarfed!

Theatrical Release Date: 06/12/2009
Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Maya Rudolph, John Krasinski, Paul Schneider, Allison Janney, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Catherine O’Hara, Jeff Daniels, Jim Gaffigan, Josh Hamilton

Summer theaters are filled with special effects bonanzas, big-budget comedies, cute-animated fare and a handful of counter-programming for those not into either of those genres. Usually, that means romantic comedies and with “Away We Go”, we have the summer’s first real date movie.

The film revolves around a young couple, soon to be bringing a baby girl into the world. They find themselves at a crossroads in their lives, unsure as to their place in the world, and they begin a search for a new city to call home. What follows is a road-film of sorts, as they try on different locales to see which has the best fit.

As the sweet but slightly odd father-to-be, John Krasinski manages to make his character likable without treading too deeply into annoying waters. The script tosses in this notion that his character likes to use big words without knowing their real meaning, in an attempt to make the character quirky and endearing to the indie festival crowds. Touches like that are what almost ruined the film for me, as I see nothing wrong in making his character a normal guy, not some borderline mental case who has saddled some poor woman with the job of raising both him and their soon-to-be-born daughter.

That aside, the driving force behind the film’s ability to connect with audiences is Maya Rudolph. Primarily known for her comedic prowess in past Saturday Night Live seasons (and a nice addition to the cast of “Idiocracy”), Rudolph shows off that she’s not a one-trick pony. Her character is loaded with heart, kindness and the patience to deal with all of the events going on around her and Krasinski. Hopefully, it’s the kind of performance that will allow her to continue broadening her character options in future projects because those opportunities would be well-deserved.

The rest of the film is littered with cameos from recognizable, but not overwhelmingly famous, actors such as Allison Janney, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Paul Schneider. Each character provides some life lesson to Rudolph and Krasinski, as the pair jaunt from city to city in their attempt to find a home. The manner in which these segments are broken into chapters via on-screen titles gets old quick and created pacing issues that make the film’s 98 minute runtime feel a good twenty to thirty minutes longer.

These touches would be far more forgivable if they had come from a fresh filmmaker, presenting his first film at Sundance. However, this is Sam “American Beauty” Mendes we’re talking about here. While I’m not one of the people drinking his Kool-Aid, I do think that he knows a thing or two about making films. That experience doesn’t really show here and detracted from the overall enjoyment for me.

One thing I will commend Mendes for doing is selecting Alexi Murdoch to do all of the music. While not all of the tracks were made specifically for the film, they really help to create the emotional weight of the story. And although Rudolph and Krasinski do a fine enough job, my ability to connect to the film was cemented upon hearing Murdoch’s beautiful, somewhat ethereal singer-songwriter material waft through the theater’s speakers.

I appreciate when films are so in touch with their tone that they can find a single artist to create the music (like the use of Anggun in the great Danish film from Susanne Bier, “Open Hearts”). It creates a sense of continuity and flow that is hard to replicate otherwise, while at the same time providing a wonderful soundtrack to listen to after the film which can then stir the same emotions up even without being in the theater.

But at its core, the film is about Rudolph and Krasinski as they portray the sweet, love-struck couple all of us have had at least a few moments of enjoying. If you’re in love, this film will resonate with you and make it a good date flick. If you’re a spiteful miser, or hate “festival films”, this one could leave you surlier than when you entered the theater.

I still have misgivings about some of the pretentious elements that Mendes incorporated but Rudolph’s performance managed to sneak up and capture my attention and so I’ll give “Away We Go” a 3 out of 5. If you’re not looking for a film rife with explosions, robots or aliens, go see “Up“. If you’ve already seen that, feel free to take your cuddle-bunny to this one.