In the alterna-quirk spirit of Garden State and Juno comes Away We Go, the tale of a thirtyish couple ready to settle down but unsure of where.
If home is where the heart is, then lovebirds Burt and Verona (John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph, both terrific) already have rent-free lodgings. But the expectant parents are looking for a physical, rather than metaphysical, place to raise their daughter. A place that lives up to their crunchy, Huck Finn-y ideals of America and parenthood.
Based on an original screenplay by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, Sam Mendes' road movie follows the couple as they test the soil of Phoenix; Tucson, Ariz.; Madison, Wis.; Montreal, and Miami. Which city is most hospitable to a new family putting down roots? And in any of them, can they escape the decanted whine of singer/songwriter Alexi Murdoch that floods the sound track?
Burt is in insurance; Verona is a medical illustrator. With a fax and a phone, they can live anywhere. They are the fulfillment of the dream of Revolutionary Road, last year's Mendes dramathon about the pair who hoped to escape the prison of American suburbia by moving to Paris.
In that one, the marrieds hope a change of external place will change their internal dissatisfaction. In this one, the unmarrieds hope that a change of external place, near friends or relatives, will make them feel more secure.
In the course of their oddball odyssey across North America, Burt and Verona personify the longing for ancestral home in a generation where families are dispersed. "Where should we live?" is the pretext for the more critical questions "How should we live" and "Whom are we living for?" Some of the friends they visit - an overgrown party girl played to a brittle hilt by Alison Janney and a feminazi played with laid-back authoritarianism by Maggie Gyllenhaal - have blazed paths Burt and Verona definitely do not want to follow.
The unassuming performances by Krasinski and Rudolph help make this the first Mendes movie that feels lived-in rather than staged. As opposed to that canned feeling of American Beauty and Road to Perdition, the combination of their naturalistic acting and Ellen Kuras' light-filled cinematography fills Away We Go.
Even so, Mendes may have too sharp a sensibility for Eggers' and Vida's shaggy script. As Mendes somewhat cynically frames the film, Burt and Verona are nicely drawn, sympathetic figures in a film where virtually everyone else (except the radiant Carmen Ejogo and gloomy Paul Schneider) is caricatured and aggressively unsympathetic.
Still, even when I didn't believe in the awfulness of Away We Go's subsidiary characters, I believed in Burt and Verona.EndText