Review: Away We Go
There’s a scene in “Away We Go” that opens to a softly-lit, wide-angle view of John Krasinski (Burt) and Maya Rudolph (Verona) standing, feet unmoving, on an airport walkway. As everyone around them in the airport hustles and bustles through the terminal, the pair stands still and lets the walkway slowly carry them through the airport. This is, I imagine, a metaphor of some sort.
While watching that particular metaphor unfold on screen, I realized that I hated this movie.
One of the most common complaints offered by moviegoers is that a film is formulaic and carefully designed to elicit a particular response from its audience. Action movies and romantic comedies are most frequently accused of this.
But in “Away We Go,” we see that so-called indie movies (note: the term “indie” once described movies that were financed outside of a major studio, but now it just means movies that are shot with different filters on the lens and have softer music, as possibly a higher-than-normal percentage of bearded characters) are now beginning to follow their own formula. It’s a more open-ended formula, but a formula nonetheless.
Screenwriter Dave Eggers is the mind behind this particular work. The author of the mind-numbingly banal “Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” stamps this movie with his own special ability to take forever to say exactly nothing.
The basic premise of the story is that Burt and Verona are a 30-something couple who have just discovered they are pregnant. They live in a shabby house in Colorado, drive a shabby car, wear shabby clothes and are shabbily groomed. After Burt’s nearby parents gleefully decide they are moving to Belgium, Burt and Verona decide they need to find the perfect place to raise their child, so they embark on a journey to find that perfect place.
(By the way, how about the names Burt and Verona? They’re so ironically different, just like the actual characters! According to NameVoyager, Burt peaked in popularity in 1886 and Verona peaked in popularity in 1898. If Away We Go has a sequel, I imagine we will meet Burt and Verona living in Volgograd, Russia with their son, Cloyd and daughter, Wava.)
During the course of their journey — which finds them traveling to Phoenix, Madison, Montreal and Miami — they run into friends and relatives, most of whom are broadly-painted and ridiculous. Verona’s old boss in Phoenix is an alcoholic who casually swears in front of her children and tells her daughter she looks like “a dyke.” Burt’s friend in Madison is a caricatured feminist who doesn’t believe in strollers, breastfeeds her 10-year-old son and yearns to be able to have sex like a sea horse does. And so forth. They add nothing to the story and really serve no purpose other than to make Burt and Verona look extra-normal.
In strict adherence to Chapter 9 of How to Make an Indie Movie that College Kids Will Think is Life-Affirming, the movie is littered with lots of quirky moments that don’t actually make sense when examined objectively. One woman’s response to a miscarriage is to perform a somber pole dance at a club’s Amateur Night. Burt and Verona’s final meaningful conversation takes place on a trampoline because, well, why not a trampoline? Verona chokes up while telling a five-minute story about how, when she was a child, her mother glued fake fruit to a tree in the backyard and her father thought it was hilarious.
Apparently, the sum of all these parts is supposed to equal a meaningful, heartfelt story about two people trying to find their way through life. Instead, it comes off as a hodge-podge of random situations and dialogue that only seems to be intelligent and interesting.
There’s no denying that Eggers is a smart and talented writer, but I wonder if he’s most adept at reading his target audience and knowing how to push their buttons. Teaming with director Sam Mendes, he creates a landscape of Nick Drake-type music, artfully-shot landscapes and, as previously mentioned, indulgent dialogue that is so wacky it forces you to think it’s good, lest you be left behind as someone who isn’t hip enough to get it. I’m probably cynical, but it all seems so calculated. I think Eggers knows exactly what he’s doing and who he’s appealing to.
There’s nothing life-affirming about Away We Go. It’s unfortunate that indie films are starting to pander to an audience, in direct opposition to the reason independent studios were created years ago. Because of that, I think I disliked the movie because of principle than anything else, which might be unfair.
I probably shouldn’t be so serious, because this isn’t a declaration of doom for the film industry; fortunately, there are still plenty of movies being made that are subtle, meaningful and interesting.
Away We Go just wasn’t one of them.