I seem to be in something of a minority, but 2009 has been a pretty empty experience in terms of cinema-going. Almost everything I’ve seen has been preceeded with good reviews and recommendations, and it’s mostly all been soulles, flawed and stunningly popular. Thank God for Away We Go, then. Director Sam Mendes’ return is an indie romantic comedy with tons of wit, feeling, laughs and emotion.
Burt and Verona (the excellent John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph) are expecting their first child in three months, and preparations were going smoothly until Burt’s self-centered parents decide to move off to Belgium before their grandchild is born. With no reason to stay in Colorado, the couple decide to go on a roadtrip around North America, visiting family and friends in an attempt to decide where they should settle. Along the way, they encounter some quite stunning examples of the word ‘family’ as each visit takes another maturing and often hilarious turn. Without wanting to ruin the numerous visits, highlights include visiting Verona’s former boss Lily in Phoenix. Played by Alison Janney, Lily is loud, brash, bright and insanely inappropriate along with being the stand-out supporting performance. Maggie Gyllenhaal also excels as Burt’s new-age hippie cousin, a character so stunningy unaware and oblivious to those around her that again, she brings laughs in the most inopportune circumstances.
If the tag of ‘indie romantic comedy’ put you off, its simply because its the easiest way to describe the film. Its comedy is often stunningly dark at times, its quite romantic and there’s nothing big budget about it. There’s no A-list actors, no lavish sets, nothing to distract you from the brilliant script and cinematography. Writers Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida have crafted a really touching script with an instantly likeable central couple in Burt and Verona. Both are quirky, funny and human enough to be relatable from the get-go, and Krasinski and Rudolph have a great chemistry that helps you really believe in them.
Krasinski isnt a million miles away from the character he’s best known for (Jim in the American version of The Office), but he’s childlike and also combatitive enough to make enough of a distinction. Rudolph is enchanting as the heavily pregnant, sweet and measured Verona, who really holds the film together. You’re not likely to find a more believable on-screen couple than Burt and Verona this year, and as they move through each city, you might not see them change, but you certainly see them learn more. That, perhaps, makes Away We Go that much more real; Burt and Verona note that they’re in their 30s, and are certainly responsible enough that they needn’t go through some drastic Hollywood character developments in order to get to where they need to be as you will have seen in the glut of romantic comedies littering cinemas this summer.
I’ll freely admit, I’ve been looking forward to Away We Go for a good few months. The best thing I can say about it is that whilst my expectations were high, the film met them with aplomb. A lot of films have been a victim of overhype and backside-kissing hyperbolic reviews, and this film certainly isn’t one of them. You’re going to have to go far to find a film with as much heart, as many laughs and as well written as Away We Go this year. 2009’s best road trip, hands down.