by Thomas Delapa
Just how much of a slog is Away We Go? Had it not been directed by the Oscar-winning Sam Mendes, it would have probably gone straight to video.
A road movie with less traction than General Motors, Away We Go is Mendes’ latest take on the American couple running on empty. Starting with 1999’s smash American Beauty and most recently with 2008's Revolutionary Road, Mendes seems driven to distraction by stories of couples on a collision course with an ugly American dream.
Behind the wheel for this spin are thirtysomethings Burt (John Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph), unmarried underachievers and soon-to-be parents. A surprise revelation by Burt’s flaky parents (Jeff Daniels, Catherine O’Hara) sends the downwardly mobile Colorado couple on a cross-country odyssey to find a place they can truly call home.
The script--by novelists and novice screenwriters Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida-- amounts to a series of sputtering vignettes tracking Burt and Verona as they travel by plane, train and automobile from Phoenix to Miami and Montreal to Madison, WI. Like guests on a late-night talk show, a few stars casually drop in to do comic bits and then go away unannounced, all while Burt and Verona sit back as dazed and unamused bystanders. From an obnoxiously desperate housewife (Allison Janney) to a loopy New Age college professor (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Mendes’ flat caricatures had me crying out loud, “Are we there yet?”
Cast from U.S. TV, Krasinski (The Office) and Rudolph (Saturday Night Live)--definitely an anti-Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet--are pictured by Mendes as contemporary salt-of-the-earth types whose drab simplicity has allowed them to dodge the excesses of American vulgarity and weirdness. While Rudolph seems to be suffering a nonstop case of morning sickness, the bearded and bearish Krasinski runs out of gas first, settling on his wide-eyed impression of a deer caught in the headlights.
Road kill is everywhere in Away We Go, trailed by Alexi Murdoch’s monotonous set of folk songs that drone on from sea to shining sea. Strewn among the couple’s whirlwind encounters are the writers’ pedestrian attempts to jump-start the dialogue with Generation-X parental pointers. “You have to be so much better than you ever thought,” Burt says expectantly.
Poorly conceived and delivered, Mendes’ film also negates the very essence of the American road movie, namely, the landscape. For Burt, Verona and Mendes himself, these United States are at best a blur and at worst a confederacy of dunces. The only respite on the duo’s travels is a detour to Montreal, where they find Burt’s old college roommate and his wife living a seeming idyllic existence, littered with so many adopted multicultural kids that even Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie would be jealous.