Sam Mendes continues to prove that he is one of the most reliable directors of the decade, even when he switches gears and delivers something entirely different from his past efforts. The man behind such excellent films as American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Jarhead and Revolutionary Road dives into the indie comedy genre with Away We Go, a lighthearted yet surprisingly emotional drama-comedy. As always seems to be the case, Mendes' work is some of the best of the year.
John Krasinski ("The Office") and Maya Rudolph ("Saturday Night Live") are the unlikely choices to star in Mendes' latest work. For a director whose previous works have starred the likes of Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Chris Cooper, Tom Hanks, Jude Law, Paul Newman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Kathy Bates, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet - most of whom have won or been nominated for an Academy Award - these TV actors, at first glance, don't have the experience or pedigree to follow in such illustrious footsteps. But both Krasinski and Rudolph turn in the best performances of their careers, ones that will likely open up plenty of doorways moving forward. Krasinski is especially strong, combining the likability of his popular TV character with a goofier but believable charisma that allows his personality to bounce off the screen in every scene. Rudolph plays his more grounded counterpart; she does a solid job of holding him down like a child would 100 helium-filled balloons.
Away We Go has a simple plot: Burt (Krasinski) and Verona (Rudolph) are a couple who discover they're pregnant. Dissatisfied with their current home - and the fact that Burt's parents have decided to move to Europe a month before their baby is born - they go on a road trip to visit old acquaintances and determine whether other parts of the country are better suited to raise a family. Along the way, they discover just how weird and/or messed up their acquaintances are.
The movie looks and feels nothing like a Mendes film. Ever since American Beauty, Mendes has always provided a very glossy, almost surreal look to his films; though Revolutionary Road was notably different from his past efforts, it too had a distinct style. If you didn't know ahead of time, you'd never know that Away We Go was directed by the award-winning director. It looks a lot like other indie dramedies, albeit with the masterful hand of Mendes at the helm. This isn't a bad thing; the direction complements the story perfectly.
Away We Go is one of the best movies of the year and one of the funniest; it's a shame, and somewhat surprising, that such a good, easily accessible movie didn't receive a wider release from Universal. Every segment has a rich set of supporting characters that will have you laughing out loud, and yet there's a familiarity that allows the audience to relate on an emotional level. The movie does turn more serious in the final act, almost jarringly so, but it's a proper way to bring the characters to their obvious conclusion.
The one real flaw with the film - and this is a very minor one - is the sad attempt to emulate Montreal in whatever location the movie was filmed. Having been to Montreal pretty recently, the scenes set in the French-speaking city stood out like a sore thumb, primarily because not a single word of French is muttered. It's not really a flaw as it was an amusing hiccup, though.
Away We Go is funny, entertaining and emotional. It avoids the typical melodramatic clichés, and is pitch perfect most of the time. If you don't have a wide smile on your face throughout most of the movie, there is something seriously wrong with you.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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