I have to admit that after seeing the trailer for Away We Go before a couple of recent movies, I wasn’t entirely sold. While the trailer wasn’t awful, it certainly didn’t seem like anything more than a here-we-go-again indie movie featuring a pregnant chick and cartoon inspired graphics. Checking out the Full Cast and Crew page on IMDb revealed much more: top notch director Sam Mendes and a couple of other Michel Gondry film alums worth noting (i.e. cinematographer Ellen Kuras). After seeing the movie on a delightfully pleasant Sunday afternoon, I have to say I think the trailer sells the film short.
It’s clear what Focus was going for: marketing the movie along the lines of Juno or Garden State in the hope of securing that ever-elusive instant indie-cool classic that film majors show their girlfriends in college to explain how cinema can be so much more than Reese Witherspoon overcoming all odds to turn a court room upside down. And can you blame them? At first glance, Away We Go screams every cliche indie film stereotype: Vietnam jackets, a sensitive acoustic score, and a bunch of highly qualified actors and actresses taking a pay cut to still feel alive. But leave it to Mendes to bring out the best in a film. While the movie sometimes teeters on the edge of going “full indie,” the performances by the cast and the delicacy of the directing dial the story into something much more sincere than your average throwaway young Americans in crisis movie. This should come as no surprise for fans of Medes’ work. With this story, however, he was able to take a load off and have a few laughs before delving into the typical white American despair he’s become a master at demonstrating. It is a welcome blend for him and something that I read was important to him in joining this project.
Where Away We Go succeeds is in the sincerity of its characters and its ability to treat the audience as something more than popcorn receptacles looking for a quick summer movie fix. As main characters Burt and Verona (John Krasinksi and Maya Rudolph) reenact a Southwest commercial, city hopping around America looking for the ideal place to raise their unborn baby, one can’t help but empathize with the bittersweet nature of their situation. I would’ve considered the Beatles classic “All You Need Is Love” as another appropriate title for this film as the characters come to realize that home is where the heart is in an honest and organic way. Mendes trades tried and true getting-to-know-our-protagonists montages for hilarious (and at times, very moving conversations) with old friends of the main couple, allowing their personalities and morals to surface out of the chaos of the lives of their “grounded” friends. My biggest fear going in was that the story or characters would feel forced or be trying too hard to present the “brilliance” of the writer who spent as much time reading the script out loud to himself in front of a mirror as taking the time to figure out why people do what they do in the real world. In this film, I found no one to be overly preachy or unrealistic. I was moved by how honest the script was with its subject and ultimately, itself.
From a technical aspect the film wasn’t overly stunning but perfect for the tone and plot of the story. I wasn’t surprised to see that the cinematographer and editor (both females, another important aspect worth considering given the subject of the film) had worked on other Focus gems including Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Lost in Translation. The superb technical aspects in tandem with the emotional but simple score provided by scottish songwriter Alexi Murdoch provided an excellent window to view and understand the characters; something I think was extremely important for a summer film that doesn’t have the same budget or massive VFX department as the rest of the season’s fare. All in all, Away We Go was a great film full of life, love, humor, and melancholy. My mother always taught me that honesty is the best policy and when a film comes along that can capture this in the web of its various elements it’s certainly something worth bragging about.