Whether we're dealing with the caustic, depressing cinematic material that we got from last year's brilliant REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, or with the undeniably delightful charm of this year's AWAY WE GO, there's little doubt that director Sam Mendes is more than reliable (and he's also proven that with everything else he's done prior to these two films). While AWAY WE GO may not be as searingly intense as REVOLUTIONARY ROAD or as relentlessly raw as JARHEAD, there's no arguing the fact that it's a very good little movie, with a seamless mix of amusing and heart-breaking moments.
It's truly amazing how believable John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph are as a couple. There's not a second in which we doubt that they love each other, and this is mostly due to several "small moments" that they share rather than to things being said explicitly. Burt and Verona find out that Verona is pregnant during a brilliantly-conceived first scene which is also uproariously funny for the way in which it is "discovered" that she's pregnant. They are thirtysomethings who are still not quite sure what their aim in life is, and they decide to take a road trip around the country, perhaps to figure out which place would be a good one to move to in order to raise their child.
Every time that Burt and Verona make a stop at one of the towns or cities they go to, they meet up with someone who is somehow related to one of them, and for the most part, hilarity ensues. AWAY WE GO definitely relies quite a bit on the quirkiness of the supporting characters that our protagonists visit during their journey. Some may criticize this, but I adored it; my only problem with it is the fact that I would've loved to get to see more of some of these supporting characters, rather than just a few scenes. Take, for example, the segment involving Burt and Verona's visit to Ellen (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who goes by "LN" instead because, um, she's a Women's Studies professor (get it?). LN is Burt's "cousin" (they're not actually related, but I won't spoil the details), and the couple spends a few hours in her house before things become delightfully awkward. There are two moments during this segment (both involving a stroller) that got me to laugh the hardest I've probably laughed during a single scene of any other film this year. The magnificent Gyllenhaal is awesome here, and it would've been fantastic to see more of her character.
Despite what some may call the film's over-reliance on quirkiness, and despite the fact that we wish we got to see more of some of the secondary folks, there's no doubt that the pitch-perfect chemistry between Krasinksi and Rudolph works wonders and keeps one constantly engrossed in the plot. Although there are moments during which Burt seems like he might need to grow up a little, I have no doubt that he's exactly the kind of gentle soul any girl would love to have in her life. Verona is played remarkably well by Rudolph, and the character's difficulties dealing with her parents' death take central importance in the plot, particularly when it comes to the film's resolution. The couple's final destination may not be what we would have expected, but it makes perfect sense in light of what happens, and the film's final, sullen moments are handled in an expertly subtle way.
Don't expect to see Verona giving birth in the last scene and to get confirmation that the family now has everything figured out and that they'll live happily ever after, because that's clearly not what we can expect from a director like Mendes, and thank goodness for that. However, there's no doubt that AWAY WE GO is still largely sweet and light-hearted; it's just refreshing to get (for once) a film that can pull that off without needing to enter saccharine territory.