|One of my all-time favorites|
We saw this film at the theater when it came out in 2009 and now it seems to represent several years of my life. We like to think our cinematic tastes are discriminating, and back then we were still hesitant about R-rated art, so that date night broke daring new ground for us. And I still laugh and cry every time I see the movie. Just watching the trailer again (for this post) made me happy inside.
Away We Go is an offbeat post-modern dramedy, with a side of realistic romance, in the road picture tradition. Burt and Verona are thirty-somethings living in a trailer with a cardboard window and taking life as it comes, until they learn they are expecting their first child. When Burt’s parents announce that they are moving to Belgium for the next two years, the young couple feels abandoned and unmoored. So Burt and a very pregnant Verona set out on a cross-country trip, visiting relatives and old acquaintances in hopes of finding a supportive setting in which to start their family.
Away We Go is full of quirky humor played directly to Generation X. Most of the characters are written as caricatures and I laughed out loud at the cast’s over-the-top renditions. The script and performances have the feel of a play, relying on dialogue and performances that almost seem too exaggerated for cinema. Still, many Gen-Xers will relate to the uncomfortable social situations. Our parents may not have moved to Belgium, but they have let us down.We laugh at Lowell, L.N., and Beckett’s mother not because they amuse us, but because we all wonder how to deal with pessimists waiting for the Apocalypse, parents who take themselves too seriously, or zealous proponents of fringe theories. When Burt shouts, in perhaps the best line of the film, “And I renounce your unbelievable bullshit!”, we cheer him, envious of his freedom.
John Krasinski plays a sincere, blunt, and clumsy Burt Farlander. Verona (Maya Rudolph) is reserved and thoughtful, but she and Burt have a comfortable relationship and are constantly communicating. Together, they face their fears and inadequacies head-on. Their optimistic quest for parenting role models and kindred spirits takes them—by car, plane, and even train—to Phoenix, Madison, Montreal, and Miami.
Retro clothing styles, older cars, and a subdued color palette make this film seem like it could be decades older than it is. The story values things and places and people that have weathered life. We feel conflicting values as the camera lingeringly contrasts rugged landscapes, beaches, trees, and sunsets, with luxurious buildings, stately townhouses, and nighttime cityscapes. Burt and Verona are clearly comparing the distinctive “feel” of each stop on their itinerary. The film’s soundtrack is moody and introspective, featuring many songs by Scottish singer/songwriter Alexei Murdoch. The music is beautifully haunting, the lyrics pregnant with hope.
This screenplay was a first for husband-wife team Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida. Dave, a satirical novelist once called “the J. D. Salinger of Generation X”, has written characters whose experiences mirror many of his own. Like Verona, he lost both parents while he was a college student. Like Burt’s brother, he felt the burden of raising a child alone. Burt’s sister-in-law disappears, abandoning her daughter and husband. Eggers’ sister committed suicide. Dave found that parenthood dramatically changed his lifestyle and the way he approached his career, and Burt and Verona are willing to embrace the inevitable changes that accompany pregnancy and new parenthood.
The meaning of parenthood, family, and commitment is a poignant and continuous theme. Verona is committed to Burt, but refuses to marry him. Burt’s brother wonders how his daughter will fare without a mother. Burt’s parents pursue their own European adventure, leaving their youngest son feeling rejected. Verona’s sister wonders how to know if she and her boyfriend are compatible. Both girls have to deal with the absence of their deceased parents. LN, a well-heeled New Age feminist university professor and “lactivist”, and her seahorse-obsessed husband smother their children under their notion of familial devotion. Tom and Munch try to protect their adopted family from sad reality, though their own hearts are bleeding. Lily and Lowell ignore or put down their children, while the lady at the hotel is raising a well-informed brat. After each encounter, Burt and Verona reflect on their observations, establishing their own values while considering the long-haul demands of parenting and realizing that there is no guarantee of success.
I feel a kinship with Burt and Verona every time I watch this movie. I appreciate that they want to live on purpose. Like them, I often feel lost in a sea of choices and even conflicting desires; I love the way they analyze their options. IMDB quotes director Sam Mendes as saying, “[All my films are] about one or more people who are lost and trying to find a way through. It’s no different with this one, it just happens that they do find a way through.” While Burt and Verona find some of their friends’ homes more appealing than others, they ultimately realize that they must find their own way and create their own unique family. When they finally choose a place to be their own, Burt tells Verona, “This place is perfect for us. Don’t you think?”
Verona smiles through tears, “I hope so.”
I hope so, too.