Directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty), Away We Go (2009), is the hysterical and heartfelt story of a couple about to have their first child. Mendes is able to deftly mix serious storylines with lighter ones, and manages to create a film which is serious and touching at times, but still manages to be a light comedy filled with several laugh-out-loud moments.
Burt Farlander (John Krasinski) and Verona De Tessant (Maya Rudolph), are going to have their first child in three short months, and, at that point, learn that Burt's parents (Jeff Daniels and Catherine O'Hara) – the only ties the two have to where they live – are moving out of the country. Not wanting to raise their child without any family or friends nearby, the two venture off to see various places around the country (and Canada) where they do know people in order to determine if one of those places is right for them.
While Burt and Verona, both being played by exceedingly funny actors, are humorous characters in and of themselves, they are nothing compared to those they meet on their trip. The film is populated with well-known actors and actresses who are at their top of their game playing some truly off the wall characters.
In Phoenix, Burt and Verona encounter an ex-co-worker of Verona's, Lily, played by Allison Janney, and Lily's husband, Lowell, played by Jim Gaffigan. Looking for an example of a couple raising a happy family, what they instead encounter are a loud-mouthed woman who refuses to censor anything she thinks of, including several odd, offensive, and insensitive remarks about her children.
Perhaps though, the best of the supporting roles is played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. She is LN, a professor and a childhood friend of Burt's. Well off and without a care in the world, she and her husband Roderick (Josh Hamilton) have opted for an exceptionally non-traditional way of raising their children. Their hatred of strollers represents the tip of the iceberg, as, in addition to other things, she and Roderick, who share a bed with their children, believe in not hiding their sexual activities from their kids. Yes, were Mendes to deal with LN and Roderick in a serious manner, the two would be incredibly disturbing, but dealt with solely on a comedic level, the insanity exhibited by the two comes off as some of the funniest moments in the film.
Away We Go doesn't solely deal with things in lighthearted fashion, however, Burt and Verona also have to witness some of their friends and family in crisis. Though these moments are dealt with in a serious fashion, just as with the more comedic segments of the film, the serious ones are examined, explored, and then moved on from. The film, which runs less than 100 minutes, shows the audience, Burt, and Verona a snippet from someone else's life, and then allows the couple at the center to learn from what they've seen. Everything in the film is a learning experience for Burt and Verona and is seen as such
Attempting to dissect the film is actually something of a difficult task. It is beautifully shot, varying its look with the different locations Burt and Verona are in, well-written, and brilliantly acted. It features stellar performances by both the main and supporting players. And, although it may be appropriate to describe the film as a series of vignettes, each of which feature Burt and Verona on their journey, to take apart the moments and look at each of them individually removes an element of the magic that is created when they are all put together.
Burt and Verona take their trip in order to learn more about parenting and their place in the world, and from each of the places they go they learn that there is good and bad, that there are elements of every couple and every family that they want to utilize in their own when their bundle of joy finally arrives, and things better left behind. The two end their journey far wiser than they were at its start, having experienced both upset and happiness, and much like the film itself, without any of the stops they make along the way, the journey would feel incomplete.
The Blu-ray release of the film looks and sounds quite good. There are ample amounts of detail, and no dirt or other blemishes appear on screen. Black levels are good and seem to allow detail when that was the filmmaker's intent and banish them when that was wished. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack too is free from issues. A dialogue-heavy film, it does favor the front channels, but everything in it, including the acoustic, folksy soundtrack by Alexi Murdoch, sounds perfectly clear and well-mixed.
The most unfortunate part of the release is the lack of bonus features. There is a commentary track featuring Mendes and writers Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, as well as a pretty basic making-of featurette and one on how the production went "green," but that is all.
Away We Go is a small, quiet, unassuming film despite its A-list cast and director. It is sweet and sad, funny and serious, touching and perhaps a little touched in the head all at the same time. It is a film which certainly has the sense that if someone revisits it at different points in their life they will take away some new or different meaning – and yet, no matter how many times they watch it, still laugh hysterically. Though it does have a message or two to deliver, it manages to do so without being preachy or melodramatic – something Mendes has not always successfully achieved in the past. This is a film not to be missed.