Lord love and goddamn those Wright Brothers. When they first soared off the dunes at Kitty Hawk in 1903, a new world of possibility opened up for travel, allowing us to visit kith and kin afar, but also making far-flung familial homesteads a more immediate reality. With the ability to settle anywhere and the necessity of moving to wherever work is available, a community is becoming a harder concept to define, whether it's loving the people you live near, or living near the people you love. Away We Go, a new film by Sam Mendes, capitalizes on this concept, the idea that you make your home based more on the people around you and less on the place.
Burt (John Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph) are a couple in their early 30s who are expecting their first child. Having lived day to day in the sort of "love will keep us warm" fashion for their entire relationship, they realize that they need to set down some roots in order to provide a stable home for their growing family. When Burt's parents (Catherine O'Hara and Jeff Daniels), who live nearby, abruptly decide to move overseas, the expectant couple sets off to visit siblings, cousins, college friends and old co-workers in order to find a new home. This episodic journey makes use of a stellar supporting cast (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jim Gaffigan, Allison Janney, Melanie Lynsky and Paul Schneider) each of whom has a compelling story that is washed away with a new title sequence as Burt and Verona soldier on to the next locale.
It wasn't surprising to discover the script was the first screenplay effort of novelist Dave Eggers and his wife Vendela Vida. The dialogue is prone to the same sort of meandering "look at me" monologues that pepper Eggers' books. The monologues work here, mostly because of the excellent cast and because they are voiced by different characters, but they occasionally threaten to beat you over the head with "no-duh" messages about love and family.
Both Krasinksi and Rudolph transcend their television personalities to bring rich, complex characters to the screen. It's most gratifying to see Rudolph, one of the most underappreciated performers on Saturday Night Live, allowed a subtle, wry presence on the screen, proving she is no less powerful in dramatic work than she is in comedy. Fans of Krasinski expect a certain cinematic personality, the "aww-shucks" guy with an acerbic wit. His character is in this vein, but he imbues Burt with both more liveliness and more humanity than his previous work. The two together have exactly the right level of hesitancy, dependence and trust that we'd expect from a young couple in their situation. The supporting cast is fantastic, their intriguing stories all too quickly passed over, but each makes an indelible mark in their brief moments onscreen.
Director Sam Mendes shows a subdued side in this film. His direction is apt, as usual, but is secondary to the story. No extra flash or gratuitous screen fanciness (as in American Beauty) get in the way. With a lovely score by Alexi Murdoch and beautiful but never overpowering cinematography by Ellen Kuras, Away We Go is a meditative, methodical reflection on the other side of 30, the days when responsibility and relationships start to become a necessary part of your family's dynamic. Simple and elegant, it's a story that's long overdue.