16 June 2009

Review: Away We Go

Genre: Comedy / Drama

Sam Mendes' latest family drama, Away We Go starring John Krasinski (most popular by means of The Office) and Maya Rudolph (most popular by means of Saturday NIght Live), is admittedly a turn from his previous works of the same category for its own sharp curves into blithe humor - an earnest panache that was notably absent from the more sardonically humorous American Beauty (1999) and the decidedly anhumorous Revolutionary Road (2008). The film in this way makes for a terrific summer movie, as much as perhaps Sideways (2004) did, with its counterbalanced levity and gravity, which in Away We Go teeters on a peak of marital and (more specifically) (pre-)parental distress. While this subject matter itself is not unusual, the fact that Mr. Mendes allows himself to slip away from a hardcore inspection of human interdynamics and into a more freestyle exploration of societal coupledom is what achieves for this film significance. It's as if the director "rerecognized" that distressing foibles and antipathic character sets can be comical on top of acute and amusing (as in a "Kids-Say-the-Darnedest-Things" kind of way) on top of argumentative.

And the cast couldn't have been better at realizing that simultaneous union of qualities in the film's screenplay. Though most of the better known actors (than at least the leads are known) in the film have parts that amount to no more than double-sized cameos, they bring a spice and a flavor to the methodical nomadism of the theory behind the film that would have been absent in a much more serious-minded manifestation of the story. Catherine O'Hara shines as an officiously secretive a-parent to Mr. Krasinksi's character, Allison Janney pops and fizzles as a zesty slice of post-modern fortitude and applied laissez-faire, and Maggie Gyllenhaal is simply a gift as a new New-Wave nurturer, painfully aware of all but herself. As a quintet along with the not unworthy turn of Melanie Lynskey as a somehow refreshingly stock "desperate housewife" and the notably present absence of a fifth woman in the home of Mr. Krasinski's fictional brother, the women link and bind the arc of the film as, indeed, a trip to the hot-spots of theoretical womanhood for women currently in their 30s-60s and as, also, a meditation on paths to be chosen or not chosen for an individual tethered to another or so untethered. As our female protagonist, Ms. Rudolph parades her dramatically overly enceinte self through these hotspots and path-starts as if they were exhibits for a woman who perhaps wisely, perhaps unwisely, has decided to delay her moment of decision and bear the full load out in rhetorical observation. She as such a symbol does well to represent the outlook of all younger women - younger not physically but emotionally and psychically - who may once again see their future, with past abolished, as potentially still the world of mysterious yet exciting possibility that they had once envisioned as a full spectrum when they were children but that they have since recidivized into only a few, blocky, extremed items while (they are) at large within society. They, in short, are those who can choose not for a movement or for faux liberation but honestly for themselves, whatever they desire may be.

And, in the end, though perhaps not as glamorous as those of some or as carefree as those of others, their lives are right for them - or at least they earnestly believe they are, which at the time is all that really matters.

Grade: B+, well done upholding the idea of true individualism, true choice, and true honesty about what matters most to one's own self.

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