Director Sam Mendes - when he's not in war (i.e. Jarhead) or gangster (i.e. Road To Perdition) mode - he is known for very serious films that deal with real life issues and are presented in sometimes shockingly uncompromising ways (see American Beauty and Revolutionary Road as examples). But Mendes' newest film, the virtually irresistible Away We Go, is significantly lighter and quirkier than anything the director has given us before. Taking notes from the likes of Juno, Little Miss Sunshine and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (minus the weirdness), Away We Go is charming, loveable and extremely enjoyable in its quirkiness.
Away We Go tells the story of a couple who are pregnant with their first child who decide to travel to various different cities around America in search of the perfect place to start their family. Along the way they have misadventures and visit various different friends and relatives, some helping the couple and some not.
Away We Go is built on a structure of quirks and charms that carry it a long way. It's very hard to get this Juno-esque quirkiness right without it seeming forced or contrived, and both Mendes and married screenwriters Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida get it just about right. It takes the shape of a romantic comedy wrapped within a road movie, flitting from city to city as the young visit friends and family, all the while trying to find the perfect home. The couple - played with brilliant comic timing and an irresistible adorableness by John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph - are characters rarely seen in movies; sweet, innocent, full of hope and life. I guess Hollywood would rather go the safe route of having every second movie feature a serial killer or good-looking 20-somethings, than take more risks with genuinely nice characters like these.
A lot of the movie is a series of comedic vignettes featuring the various people the couple visit while on their indefinite trip. Krazinski and Rudolph are there to tie everything together, but it almost seems like an excuse on Mendes' part to present the various other people in the couple's lives. Maggie Gyllenhaal adds a weird and creepy tone to the film as a mother who breast feeds her toddlers, despises the use of strollers ("I love my babies, why would I want to push them away?" she retorts at one point) and takes the philosophy of peace on earth a little too far. Jeff Daniels and Catherine O'Hara are hilarious in short roles as Krazinski's parents, Allison Janney goes against her nice housewife role in Juno with a tirade of swearing and inappropriate jokes (in front of her kids, no less), and Chris Messina helps to bring an unpredictably, but thankfully temporary, dark turn to the proceedings.