Away We Go (2010)
Director: Sam Mendes
Plot: A couple who is expecting their first child travel around the U.S. in order to find a perfect place to start their family. Along the way, they have misadventures and find fresh connections with an assortment of relatives and old friends who just might help them discover "home" on their own terms for the first time.
Rating: M18 for language and some sexual content.
Away We Go may not position itself as Sam Mendes’ masterwork, but it is truly heartening to discover (or rediscover) the acclaimed British director’s penchant for humanist drama. His new film builds on his previous work, the highly depressing Revolutionary Road (2009), but adds a certain feel-good romanticism to the proceedings. Away We Go is upbeat and downbeat at the same time. It’s a paradox really, but one that is executed rather well.
Starring two relatively unknown actors in John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph, the film centers on a lovely (and loving) couple on a road trip across the U.S. Their mission? To find a suitable place to settle down and raise their kid in the best possible environment. They travel by air, rail, and car, across half a dozen states to get in touch with distant relatives or old friends for advice, only to discover that they (and their lives) have changed.
Mendes notches up the humor, mostly through dialogue that makes fun of sexuality, marriage, gender, and parenting. In perhaps the film’s most side-splitting set-piece, Maggie Gyllenhaal makes an appearance. She plays a mother who believes parenting to be akin to religion; some of the “ideologies” she hold include the need to be physically close to her children. This means breastfeeding even when they are big enough for formulated milk, no strollers because it suggests “pushing the child away” from oneself, and sharing the same bed (read: making love in front of the children).
The encounters with adults with appalling parenting skills cause the lead couple to become disenchanted with the idea of raising their child “sanely” and “in a sane environment”. Mendes also explores more pertinent themes such as fatalism and the need for hope amid a prospectively bleak future. Should people consign to their fate in life? Or should they work harder to try to force an opportunity to realize their hopes?
Away We Go is well-paced but suffers slightly in the final stretch. Nevertheless, the film’s impact remains strong. The last shot is a beautiful, indirect reference to the last shot of John Ford’s The Searchers (1956). In Ford’s film, John Wayne’s character is framed in silhouette against a doorway, cutting a lonesome figure in a hostile environment as the door closes on him. In Mendes’ film, the couple is framed similarly but without the shadows and the closing door. It implies possible hope and “a bright future” for them despite the bleak circumstances.
GRADE: B+ (8/10 or 3.5 stars)
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