3.7.09

Where "Away We Go" Didn't Go

Before Tuesday, the last time I was in a theater was to see Step Brothers. Like all Will Ferrell movies since Anchorman, it was disappointing. I just don't see movies much outside the house.

But Away We Go held special allure. The screenplay was penned by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida. It stars John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph (who I've had a crush on for running on 8 years) as protagonists Burt and Verona, but it also features Jim Gaffigan, Jeff Daniels, and Maggie Gyllenhaal. And in a lovely bit of casting, the Jim Halpert copycat from Parks and Recreation actually plays Krasinski's brother. Basically, it's oozing aging hipster cred.

It's also about a couple who's 6 months pregnant, and my wife is 5 1/2 months pregnant, so it seemed appropriate to brave the Ed Hardy draped toddlers of Scottsdale's Fashion Park area, hit the only "artsy" theater in town, and soak it in.

Away We Go is a nice movie. It's paced slowly, like a novel, which I generally don't appreciate when I'm watching a movie. It's got some lovely scenes (a throwaway shot of a plane taking off in the reflections of a multi-paned window was particularly pretty). It's got some great jokes (while Krasinski plays the couple's staged fights a little weak, they're still effective). Mindy found a compatriot in Rudolph's constant explanations that Yes, I'm only six months along.

It's not quite there, though. The most accurate review I've found of the film may be its harshest. I didn't agree with much of Anne Hornaday's scorching write-up in The Washington Post (the supposed contempt the filmmakers had for their minor characters wasn't quite so widespread as many critics claimed), but I did agree the film does not end well.

(SPOILER ALERT)

In the film's last two cities, the couple comes face to face with two beautiful examples of community. They can live near their college friends, who are adopting and facing the sadness of five miscarriages, in Montreal. Or they can live near Burt's brother in Miami, who's wife has just left them and the couple's young daughter for good.

Instead, the couple ends up alone, at Verona's childhood home in an unknown location, a huge old home near the water.

It's there where the film misses the point, where it's apparent Burt and Verona may be just as selfish as Burt's parents when they move to Antwerp. Others need them, and whether they know it or not, they need others.

4 comments:

  1. My wife and I saw it Tuesday evening...I read the reviews as well (A.O. Scott's in the NYTimes was a scorcher too).

    The film stirred a lot in me...I may write a counterpoint to your post in a few days...I've got to let some things settle a little...I'm not sure if, in the end, they missed it or not...

    Glad you and Mindy got out...prayers for you both as away you are going into parenthood...let me know what color stroller you want.

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  2. I've been contemplated whether to recommend Andrea and I go see it or not. With two kids under 3, we don't get out to the theater much either. I've wondered how much we could relate with this movie. (We did get out last week to see My Sister's Keeper.)

    The whole community aspect cannot get highlighted enough for me. I'm amazed at how few people really get it. I'm guessing the movie ends before you see what life alone means for them?

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  3. We are all set to see this movie in the theater. Then I read A.O. Scott's review in the New York Times, in which he just crushes the film for its "smug self-regard."

    The main characters, says Scott, are "acutely, at times painfully, aware of their special status as uniquely sensitive, caring, smart and cool beings on a planet full of cretins and failures."

    "The pity they show for less obnoxious characters...is flavored with contempt."

    "To observe that [the main characters] inhabit no recognizable American social reality is only to say that this is a film by Sam Mendes, a literary tourist from Britain who has missed the point every time he has crossed the ocean."

    The last few lines are devastating:

    "[It] is tempting to follow Burt and Verona into the precious, hermetic paradise that awaits them at the end of the road. You know they will be happy there. But you should also understand that you are not welcome. Does it sound as if I hate this movie? Don’t be silly. But don’t be fooled. This movie does not like you."

    This review stirred a lot in me, as the actual movie did for John. I love Portland, love even Portland hipsters, but the "smug self-regard" that comes with that subculture - as with so many subcultures, including perhaps the evangelical subculture - is infuriating.

    I'll still see the movie. I, like A.O. Scott, who wrote a great article on The Believer magazine a few years ago, appreciate Dave Eggers's stuff. But I think I'll get it on Netflix and save my popcorn money for a movie at which I am unlikely to see messenger bags and Smells Like Records t-shirts: the new Harry Potter or, even better, the new Woody Allen.

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  4. I've posted my thoughts on my personal blog - www.thedirtyshame.blogspot.com. They may come across as some old geezer hopped up on too much Wendell Berry...

    Grace,
    John

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