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AWAY WE GO

Director: SAM MENDES

U.S.A.-U.K. • 2009 • COLOUR • ANAMORPHIC • DOLBY DIGITAL STEREO • 35MM • 97 MIN


SAM MENDES’ FILMS — AMERICAN BEAUTY, ROAD TO PERDITION — ARE OFTEN STUDIED TO THE POINT OF AIRLESSNESS, WHICH MAKES THE LOOSE, RAGAMUFFIN ATMOSPHERE OF HIS LATEST, AWAY WE GO, A WELCOME RELIEF.

Though somewhat unimaginatively appropriating American Indie hallmarks — right down to Alex Murdoch’s insistent Nick Drake-ish acoustic guitar ballads — Mendes casts aside his rigid directorial formalism for this tale of a couple, Burt (John Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph), taking to the road on the eve of their first child’s birth to find a new home and, with it, a clearer idea of how to cope with impending adulthood.

Working from a script by A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius author Dave Eggers and his wife Vendela Vida, Mendes exhibits a generally nimble touch as he guides his story through its succession of alternately humorous and poignant episodes, and if his material occasionally succumbs to broad farce and bathos, its sincerity is nonetheless endearing. An early standout sequence involving Verona’s former co-worker (Allison Janney) manages to overcome its condescension with sharp bons mots, a feat Mendes fails to replicate with his protagonists’ later visit to the home of Burt’s new age-y childhood friend (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who’s merely an easy-target caricature. Still, despite such missteps and a borderline-precious Eggers/Vida script, the film never lingers on scenes long enough for its comedy to deflate or its melodrama to turn exploitative, its naturalism aided by two leads who craft an authentic rapport through wordless exchanges and offhand banter. Mendes locates the hope, fear, excitement and regret that accompany maiden parenthood with an assured restraint absent from his prior work. In doing so, Away We Go proves his first film to feel relaxed, messy, alive. — Nick Schager.

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