Sunday, 13 September 2015

Away We Go

Title:  Away We Go
Director: Sam Mendes
Released: 2009
Starring: John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Allison Janney, Catherine O’Hara, Jeff Daniels, Paul Schneider, Carmen Ejogo, Chris Messina, Melanie Lynskey, Josh Hamilton, Jim Gaffigan, Maggie Gyllenhaal

Plot: Upon discovering they are expecting their first child Burt (Krasinski) and Verona (Rudolph) find themselves on a unique road trip as they search for the perfect place to start their family.

Review:  Originally I saw this film when it first came out and while I found it watchable back then I can’t say it left the same impression on me that it seemingly left on the critics giving it glowing reviews at the time. So seeing it come up as part of MUBI’s rolling 30 titles I thought I would give it another watch and see if my opinions on it had changed, looking at it as an older and perhaps slightly more cultured movie watcher than I was back then.

Coming off a string of critically popular movies when he came to direct this film, none of which managed to capture the spirit or energy of his movie directing debut “American Beauty” Sam Mendes (outside of that film) hasn’t really been a director that I would name when it comes to naming favorites. This film however sees him making a rare return to his indie film making roots inturn arguably producing his best film since “American Beauty”.

Incase you haven’t guessed already my opinion for this film has really changed in the years which passed and in which I found myself now coming to the film, perhaps more able to relate to the material than I had before having in the meantime had two kids of my own or maybe I was just in the mood for this film, but something this time had changed as I found myself truly caught up in this random road trip in search of the perfect place to settle down.

Opening with perhaps the most unique way any couple has discovered they are expecting a child, as we open to Burt going down on Verona followed by him proceeding to comment on the taste and how apparently the taste can change depending on if the woman is pregnant. How true this is I can’t be sure but it certainly grabs your attention with its raw originality let alone the fact that Mendes has chosen to open his film with an oral sex scene. At the same time though Burt and Verona are far from your typical couple that we have come to expect from this kind of film, with Burt practicing his woodwork as he seems more concerned about what sort of man he will come off as to his daughter than anything seemingly practical in preparing for the arrival of his first child but then this pair are true hipsters that only independent cinema can get away with as this pair are constantly shown to be so much in touch with reality aswell as each other’s emotions than any of the varied characters they encounter on their journey. That being said Krashinski and Rudolph are such likable leads that it’s easy to look past this aspect.

Its really an incredible cast that Mendes has assembled here and through the structure of the film ensures that they all get their moment to shine as they all bring such different things to the film from Verona’s old boss who refers to her breasts as looking like “an old man’s nutsack” when not calling her daughter a dyke. We also have Burt’s pseudo-cousin and new ager “LN” (Gyllenhaal) through to their college friends Tom (Messina) and Munch (Lynskey) who despite their happy and seemingly perfect family life is revealed to be a possible front for some much deeper and heartbreaking issues for the couple. Because we are constantly moving from place to place as the couple travel to Phoenix, Arizona on their way to Verona’s old family home each group of characters are kept to their own geographical location and each location offering a new group to meet with no two being alike it really makes the journey all the more enjoyable, while ensuring that if you don’t like a certain character its not long before their section of the film is over.

Considering that Mendes would return to big budget studio movies with “Skyfall” this film remains a curiosity on his directing credits clearly having got his desire to make smaller films out of his system with this film whose poor audience reception no doubt only further cemented the decision. This film at the same time essentially also provides the high water mark for the golden age of independent cinema, which would never quite be as interesting or original as it was, especially with so many of those who had come up with the scene going on to make bigger movies through the studio system.  While at the same time it’s a simple tale fights well above its weight due to the enjoyable performances and well-constructed scenes which make up the couple’s search.

Unquestionably more enjoyable than my first viewing this really is something of a lost gem and one well worth rediscovering, especially when its arguably Mendes best film since “American Beauty” a high benchmark that to date Mendes has yet to come close to beating.  But here at least he manages to remind us all that a road movie can have wider scope that desert highways and strange back water towns.

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