Monday, May 3, 2010

Away We Go (2009)

While neither unpleasant or uninteresting, this movie had nothing particularly insightful or new to say. It seems that Sam Mendes' involvement lent more gravitas, talent and attention to the film than it would otherwise have gotten on its own merits.

Maya Rudolph, best known for her comedic stunts on Saturday Night Live, brings a quiet realism to her role as Verona. She makes a nice stand in for the audience, as the only relatively "normal" character. Her co-star, John Krasinski, gets to display no new skills here and is put to far better use in The Office.

When pregnant Verona and her quirky, but loving boyfriend Burt find that his parents leaving the country, they realize that they have no family foundation within rich to raise their coming baby daughter. If his parents were moving, they had no remaining ties left to their present home. So, they hit the road to scope a new location and new loved ones, around which to build their lives.

At first the people Verona and Burt meet are wacky caricatures. However, though "crazy" the morose and verbose observations one acquaintance, Lowell played by Jim Gaffigan, about insurance company needing to buy insurance, make perfect sense, considering the AIG fall out and his lewd, voluble wife's claim that she was denied insurance because of a pre-existing condition was less funny than familiar given the Health Care discussions that so occupied this nation months after this film was made.

The expectant parents then drop in on a family friend of Burt's, the hippy, dippy LN (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who refuses to use a stroller, for fear that it will give her children the impression that she is pushing them away. But after leaving her house in a triumphant huff, Verona and Burt's visits take a more serious turn.

When we see her with her sister, we learn that Verona is still struggling with the deaths of her parents, whom she lost when she was still in college. Then, we meet a Montreal couple who seem to share an ideal life with their adopted children, until the devastation they suffer over repeated miscarriages is revealed after a few drinks too many. Finally, we see Burt's brother, whose wife has just abandoned him and their young daughter.

Observing the sadness of others, Verona and Burt are more grateful for each other, but uncertain about whether it will be enough to raise a happy child. Although Verona is the one whose parents are gone, Burt seems most insecure that they might fail or leave their own child. He seeks assurance from Verona. Verona refuses to marry Burt, declaring that the formality is unnecessary. Moreover, she doesn't want to participate in a ceremony where her parents will be absent. Her position seems cruel since, it is not based on the impermanency of life. She promises Burt that she will never leave him and does not seem to question that their love is enduring. If that is the case, why deny him a legal tie that will give him pleasure, while not inconveniencing her?

Perhaps that becomes a moot question after Verona and Burt exchange their own makeshift vows, while laying on a backyard trampoline. Afterwards, she is able to embrace childhood memories she'd been repressing, finding joy in them, rather than just loss. When she and Burt finally choose the place where they will make their future home, Verona isn't sure they've found their happy ending, but she is hopeful.

The movie starts as a screwball and then goes for heartfelt, but either way it contains nothing novel. The problems (miscarriages, dead parents, runaway mother) seem cliche. The laughs are lukewarm and the couple at the center is as mundane as their worries. The supporting cast (Allison Janney, Jeff Daniels and Catherine O'Hara in additon to Gyllenhaal) is better than the script. The movie has nothing new to say and nothing old to say in a new way. In the end, you understand why Burt's parents chose to get out of Dodge. It was nothing personal, they just figured their time could be better spent. So could ours.

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