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This past winter, Sam Mendes gave us Revolutionary Road, which famously featured a husband and wife who couldn’t stop screaming at each other. The director’s follow-up, Away We Go, is quietly breezy and more summer-appropriate, but its central couple still has problems. Burt and Verona, both in their early 30s, are unmarried and unmoored, about to have their first child but unsure of where to nest once they learn that Burt’s parents will be moving to Belgium before the baby is born. They decide to visit a few cities for trial runs. And one night, cuddling in a motel room, Verona turns to the man she swears she’ll never wed and says, “No one is in love like us, right? It’s so weird. What are we going to do?”
Well, retching is one possibility, though Burt is way less likely to do so than the audience. Away We Go isn’t all preciousness, but there’s a significant pile of quirk to sift through to find its nuggets of genuine and often touching emotion. Written by Dave Eggers and his wife, Vendela Vida—it’s the first screenplay for both authors—the film’s story is an interesting one, a physical take on every pregnant couple’s psychological searching as they try to decide what kind of parents they’d like to be. That they must first be exposed to wackiness, though, may be its deal breaker.
Burt (The Office’s John Krasinski) and Verona (former SNLer Maya Rudolph) were not planning on conceiving, and their first hint that Verona might be pregnant is a change in her “vaginal flavor,” as noted by Burt in the opening scene of blanket-obscured cunnilingus. A few months and pants sizes later, they visit the baby’s only grandparents, Gloria and Jerry (Catherine O’Hara and Jeff Daniels). This dinner is torturous: O’Hara and Daniels are pushed to maximum daffiness, with Jerry acting unnaturally overenthusiastic about everything and Gloria being classically clueless, asking the mixed-race Verona, for instance, “Just how black do you think [the baby] will be?”
And when Burt’s parents announce their impending move out of the country, the younger couple is outraged at what they perceive as selfishness. You kind of want to smack them for their attitude— were they expecting all-access babysitters, or hoping to share their bundle of joy? Either way, Verona spins the news into a positive: With each of them having mobile jobs (he’s an insurance salesman, she’s some sort of artist), she points out that they are free to start new lives wherever they want. And so they set out to visit places where one or both of them have some sort of tie, including Phoenix, Madison, Wisc., and Montreal.
Their travels introduce them to various nutjobs, from Verona’s loud, obnoxious former coworker (Allison Janney, probably having fun as a mother who crudely mocks her own children) to Burt’s extremely New Age–y old friend, LN (Maggie Gyllenhaal, likewise seeming happy to act unhinged). Whereas these characters are irritatingly broad—one of the film’s highlights is when Burt finally quits being polite and tells LN she’s full of shit—the seemingly ideal couple they visit in the Great White North are a bit unrealistic in their openness: Tom and Munch (Chris Messina and Melanie Lynskey) are Brad-and-Angie cool, with a mixed brood of adopted, adorable kids and an attitude that it’s still OK and even healthy for them to go out on the town every now and then. But then when both couples are tipsy and hitting an all-night diner, Tom launches into a spiel about how love is everything, and it sounds more like a pretty, cinematic monologue than anything a chatty drunk would spill over pancakes. And have I mentioned that a melancholy indie soundtrack fills the interludes, Garden State–style?
Away We Go eventually settles down, however, and raises honest questions about parenting styles, the risk of loving someone, and how to cope when a parent dies or decides to leave her partner and kids. (Verona’s sister, Grace, offers a lovely thought when she says that the new baby will, in a way, bring back a piece of their parents.) Rudolph is a portrait of grace throughout, quietly observant and always believable as an occasionally eye-rolling half of a long-term couple—no trace of her usually outsize SNL characters to be found. Krasinski is slightly less successful, if only because his thick beard and glasses are distracting, seeming like an overreaching disguise to help viewers forget Jim Halpert. But as the couple starts to figure it out—and exchange vows that sound more meaningful than any of the ones stiffly repeated at weddings—you may be surprised to find that Away We Go has finally swept you to its intended destination.