Sweet, gentle, and helpfully, encouragingly naïve.
Verona and Burt are three months away from becoming parents, traveling around the country in search of a home town in which to start their family. In each town they visit are friends or family who might become their support network – many of whom, they now discover, are awful in a variety of ways: self-absorbed, pretentious, jaded to the point of deformity, or just insane.
On paper, this film may sound like a David O’Russell-type over-the-top farce. But Away We Go, like its expectant couple protagonsits, is sweet, gentle, and helpfully, encouragingly naïve.
Director Sam Mendes‘ American Beauty was a different kind of suburban satire to Away We Go. I wish I could say that I found this movie’s portrayal of the characters Verona and Burt visit extreme caricatures, or “othering” of a cynical, exaggerated kind. But even though they are portrayed by an amazing cast of supporting actors (Alison Janney, Catherine O’Hara, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jeff Daniels, Melanie Lynskey, Chris Messina), the types of people are, surprisingly, sadly, terrifyingly, common – people who only really reveal themselves, or become visible, to young couples who decide to marry, and particularly when they become pregnant.
For some reason, a co-requisite of starting a family is being drawn into the orbits of such people. Each of these orbits, these little galaxies, parallel dimensions, alternate universes, contains its own alien values, laws of physics, esoteric wormhole experiences, which are foisted upon hapless young couples for reasons that… well, that ultimately don’t matter; what does matter is that the parents-to-be survive this particular rite of passage intact, even strengthened, in their understanding of themselves and eachother. Verona and Burt are constantly questioning their choices and their chances. While their road trip comprises only short glimpses into these worlds and frightening potential futures for themselves, these brief encounters are all it takes for them to know not only what they don’t want, but who they aren’t. They may think the mysteries of what lies ahead are bigger than them, but they begin to learn that, deep down, they have at least a sense of who they are, and what kind of family they want to become.
Before watching Away We Go, I hadn’t seen or heard of Maya Rudolph. I’ve since gone on to discover she’s amazing and gifted and can do anything. Her performance here is way more restrained than most of her better-known comedy work, but she and John Krasinski are understatedly charming here.