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Away We Go

Dir: Sam Mendes

Rating: 2.0

Focus Features

100 Minutes

“I’ll still love you, even if you get so big that I can’t find your vagina,” says Burt (John Krasinski) to his pregnant wife Verona (Maya Rudolph) as she cries about her size. Self-consciously trying for sweet, funny and quirky all at once, the line ends up as none of these things. As such, it functions as a perfect distillation of Away We Go at large. Sam Mendes’ pseudo-indie falls as flat as his other work because it feels inherently disingenuous. His films have always been reductive and simple, but this one’s even worse; all of its emotional moments are overwhelmed by a pervasive sense that it has, as a whole, been engineered with a specific demographic in mind. It feels a bit like a cinematic mid-life crisis.

Simultaneously overwritten and underwritten, the film attempts to make us believe that we are watching fleshed out characters on screen by slathering dummies with layers of ornamentation. Burt and Verona have frequent conversations about what their next move should be. They put their heads together, they whisper. There is a conscious sense of intimacy between them, but there is little in the way of understood history. Verona won’t marry Burt because she doesn’t believe in the institution. That is all we know about their relationship other than the depth of feeling they supposedly share, which Krasinski and Rudolph attempt to communicate to us through sheer force of will.

Having moved to Colorado to be close to Burt’s parents, the baby’s only living grandparents, Burt and Verona are confronted with the news that they will soon be alone. Jerry and Gloria (Jeff Daniels and Catherine O’Hara) are off to Belgium for two years – the culmination of a life-long dream. The revelation comes as a painful shock, but only for the duration of the scene, because there isn’t anything more to say about it beyond that and because the film is wary of burdening its characters with the weight of carried experience. Having looked at this diorama of inciting incident, we learn that this places us within the scope of a “road movie.” For the remainder of the film, title cards will appear at the beginning of each episode to let us know where we are now. Like this:

AWAY TO [SOME PLACE]

See how it’s a play on the title? That’s the kind of movie this is, aggressively branded from the inside out. In each [some place], we are introduced to a set of characters from Burt and Verona’s supposed past and are taught a lesson in parenting/philosophy before moving on to the next. Verona’s former co-worker, Lily (Allison Janney), curses relentlessly in front of her kids, “because they don’t pay attention anyway,” and yells at her daughter about how she’s a “dyke.” She does this in a wacky way, which signifies to us that she is actually an Irrepressible Spirit. Over the course of our time with her, we learn that it’s not just fun that inspires her to act, but a faint sense of nihilism, and so we part ways to the next scene, having decided that this representation of a life is not for us. Each chapter is more or less like this, the most egregious involving an ugly amalgamation of feminist and New Age stereotypes into one easy-to-reduce package. Krasinski’s bearded hipster dad literally storms out of the house yelling about how they’re “loonies;” which is, to be fair, really funny in its own right, but not because it’s really funny.

The faint, Starbucks-y folk almost never stops playing in the background, one song bleeding into the next, just like the film’s scenes. Interstitial segments centered on travel give Burt and Verona the time to discuss the things they don’t want – to grow old, to grow lame, to be bad parents, to stifle their kid, to be too easy with their kid – while continuing to establish that they have no real idea what it is that they do want. Part of the lack of urgency in this film can be attributed to the lack of crisis. Outside of a sense of general malaise, the couple seems to be fine. Burt has a reliable job he’s excelling at and they have the money to travel the country and select where they want to live without worrying at all about affordability or any other practical concerns. The way their trip is framed, you’d think they were mostly just going to hold new best friend auditions. Characters either say exactly what they’re feeling or quip; the film requires no work at all to decipher what’s happening or what its significance may be. That significance is often more representative of an intended feeling than evocative of one, anyway.

There are a few jokes that don’t fall flat. There are a couple moments of genuine pathos. In the end, none of the events of the film make much of a difference, it’s simply understood that they’re transformative. We go away.

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