Once released on DVD, conservative parents everywhere should immediately buy a copy of “Away We Go,” place it in a box marked Break Glass Only In Case of Emergency, and hang it somewhere handy in the event the children begin to show troubling signs of becoming insufferable Leftists: White kids with corn rows, NPR on the preset, Al Gore poster on the ceiling over the bed, more than five sanctimonious “awareness” bracelets… That’s how it begins, so before they’re lost to the final phase — a complete lack of self-awareness — break the glass and show your children who exactly they’re in danger of becoming.
Directed by the very gifted Sam Mendes, (American Beauty and Road to Perdition are two personal favorites) “Away We Go” obviously wasn’t designed to portray our friends on the left as utterly dysfunctional and clueless, but never will you see a more unsympathetic bunch of self-involved, navel gazers. And not just the supporting characters, some of whom are supposed to be unlikable (I think), but also the leads, Burt (John Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph), two self-proclaimed 34 year-old, unmarried “fuck ups” who discover they’re about to have a baby. In their defense, they are a committed couple (he wants marriage, she refuses), so committed that when she laments the coming weight gain, he reassures, “I will love you even if I can’t find your vagina.”
Verona’s a medical artist of some sort and Burt sells insurance over the phone, verbally morphing into one of those, “How ’bout those Bruins?” Regular Guys to win over clients (which drives Verona crazy). Both look and dress like they stepped out of 1974 and live in a ramshackle house with an electrical system unable to handle a space heater. They live there for no other reason than to be close to Burt’s parents, a self-absorbed, well-to-do couple played by Jeff Daniels and Catherine O’Hara. They’re the type who believe the meaningless act of spending thousands of dollars on statues “to honor Native Americans” somehow makes up for the selfish bastards they really are. Everything is always about them and in pursuit of what they want both are more than willing to hurt their own son through the death of a thousand slights. Instead of being grandparents, they will be moving to Belgium.
Wanting to raise their child and plant roots near someone, anyone, Burt and Verona hit the road on a cross-country planes, trains, and automobile odyssey hoping to find a new home through a reconnection with friends and loved ones. Phoenix is stop number one, home to Verona’s former boss Lily (Allison Janey) and her sad, odd, dysfunctional family. Lily’s gift is living in the belief no one can hear her talk, even though they can. She goes on and on about her boobs and laughs over how her (within earshot) daughter might be a “dyke.” Not surprisingly, Burt and Verona press on.
Next stop Madison, Wisconsin, where Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Burt’s childhood friend, LN (pronounced “Ellen”). She teaches at the university, breast feeds her four-year old son and lives in a hippie pagan heaven where everyone shares a “family bed” because it’s good for the kids to watch mommy and daddy make love. In the film’s best moment, Burt and Verona finally show some sand, hilariously rebelling against this diseased, oppressive environment.
There are a few more stops but you get the picture. With an intentionally quirky soundtrack and irreverent tone, “Away We Go” feels more Wes Anderson than Sam Mendes. The pace is smooth, the scenery’s nice and my curiosity over where Burt and Verona would finally end up never waned. Sure, I liked them well enough, but could never respect them.
Other than Gyllenhaal’s LN, who should be jailed for raising likely serial killers, the characters are each rewarded with youth, health, children, employment, and an upper middle-class lifestyle, and while some have seen emotionally difficult times (miscarriage, divorce), all seem the type to forever focus on what they want, what they don’t have and the way things should be, instead of the many, many blessings within reach. We all want things better, we all lug a bag of regrets and hurts and desires around, but these are people who can’t be happy with almost everything, which means they’ll never be happy, and that’s hard to sympathize with and relate to.
For that reason, the script, written by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, is nowhere near as profound as it thinks it is. At heart, the story’s meaningless and the themes as shallow as a parking lot rain puddle. Burt loves Verona, Verona loves Burt, they live in America, are going to have a a baby and make enough money doing very little work to afford a cross-country journey of self-discovery. Yeah, his parents are selfish pleasure seekers and hers are dead, but everyone plays a little hurt and no one respects those who endlessly go on about it. “Entitlement” simply isn’t a theme.
That doesn’t mean the pointless journey of two 34 year-old “fuck ups” is an unpleasant one, but I just found myself laughing “at” them and theirs more than I was probably supposed to. Though I shouldn’t have. After all, we all have liberal friends and family members we love and respect, and this kind of stereotyping is completely uncalled for … though not unamusing.