Away We Go is one of those rare instances of understated filmmaking in recent years. Many have made claims that Sam Mendes’s 2009’s directorial effort is an exercise in pretension, but I’d make a strong argument that its roots are in modest traditions. The film follows Burt and Verona, a thirty-something couple who feel directionless and are finally faced with the threat of a “real life” when Verona gets pregnant. Facing such a profound change, the two set out to find a new place called home.
Part of Away We Go‘s charm is in its leads. John Krasinksi and Maya Rudolph take us on this journey and I think a great deal of their credibility in this film is based on previous knowledge of the two. The Office‘s Krasinski and SNL alum Rudolph’s familiarity with the world of comedy could have been a considerable setback, but instead, my low expectations panned out surprisingly well. I’ll admit that may be a considerable bias, but the two have merits of their own. Krasinski is affable as usual, but manages to deal with heavier moments when absolutely necessary. Mendes seems to know that this may not be his strong suit so most of the dramatics are pawned off on Rudolph. She handles them well as she dances between comedy and drama, but the strongest points are when the two are together. The chemistry between them is both understated and charming. It may not seem like it’s enough to build a movie off of in the film’s opening, but by the end, as the couple has grown the audience has seen them through it all.
But to credit the film’s success as a sole result of Krasinksi and Rudolph would be naive. Each couple they visit along the way adds their own unique flavor to the mix. Allison Janney’s performance is easily one of the most memorable. Her over-the-top turn as a laughably bad mother is an utter charm to watch, even if it is only for ten minutes or so. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Melanie Lynskey and Chris Messina deliver stunning performances as a seemingly happy couple who have suffered an unspeakable tragedy. At their best, they’re a sweet couple, but their real strengths are their low points. While Mendes could have constructed this relationship as very melodramatic and manic one, he treats it with a quiet sensibility. In terms of the couples experienced throughout the film, Away we Go runs the gamut, but that only serves to make the audience so much more sure of Burt and Verona.
Then again, the film’s overwhelming heart is undoubtedly found in its thematic roots. The quest for home is a relatable one. More importantly, it’s an accessible one. Most people have struggled with finding a place that is uniquely their own and Away We Go‘s intimacy makes it feel as if it is our own. As cliche as it may sound, the investment in finding “home” isn’t Burt and Verona’s search alone, it becomes our own. Mendes finds a way to provide his audience with a family and a home of her own by the film’s bittersweet close.