Movies about pregnancy all too often feature mad dashes to the maternity ward, delivery-room histrionics and bumbling, hovering relatives.
“Away We Go” rejects those cliches and instead takes an honest, humorous and ultimately moving look at the prospect of a family growing from two members to three.
Husband-and-wife writers Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida were inspired by becoming parents themselves – they now have two kids – but didn’t draw from their own experiences in writing the script. Nevertheless, the characters’ adventures feel real and relatable.
John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph are lovely together as Burt and Verona, a couple in their 30s on the brink of having their first child who travel North America searching for the best place to settle down. Both actors have made their names with TV comedy – he with “The Office,” she with “Saturday Night Live” – and while they enjoy plenty of funny scenes in “Away We Go,” they also reveal an unexpected capacity for drama with effortless grace.
It’s also a nice surprise to see such a small film come from director Sam Mendes, better known for the stylish visuals and big-name casts of “American Beauty,” “Road to Perdition” and “Revolutionary Road.” This feels like the kind of indie that’s often described as a labor of love: intimate and unadorned.
Burt and Verona, who’s six months along, realize there’s nothing keeping them in their ramshackle house in suburban Denver. They can do their jobs anywhere and Burt’s parents (a wonderfully weird Jeff Daniels and Catherine O’Hara), who live nearby, are about to move out of the country just as the baby’s coming – providing one of many examples to Burt and Verona of the kind of parents they don’t want to be.
So they visit a series of cities that interest them, hoping to find one that’s a good fit. A stop in Phoenix reunites them with Verona’s former co-worker (Allison Janney), who’s obnoxious around her own kids, and her clueless husband (Jim Gaffigan).
Maggie Gyllenhaal is awesome in her self-seriousness as a childhood friend of Burt’s and a mother of two with her stay-at-home dad partner (Josh Hamilton). A professor at Wisconsin who goes by the name LN, she isn’t shy about sharing her touchy-feely, New-Agey and judgmental parenting advice, and the laughs grow with the scene’s absurdity.
Meanwhile, a visit to college pals in Montreal (Melanie Lynskey and Chris Messina) offers a glimpse of the hopeful side of becoming a mother and father, but it also includes the rare moments that feel uncomfortable and don’t quite work.
Burt and Verona take all this insanity in stride; one of the subtlest and best parts of “Away We Go” is the comfort the two leads have together. They tease and support each other and they’re clearly in love, ready to face whatever happens as a team. The story provides no contrived melodrama; what’s about to happen to them in a few months is dramatic enough.
Having said that, “Away We Go” does have its tear-jerker moments, though it doesn’t try too hard to achieve them. In Tucson, Ariz., Verona has a touching exchange with her sister (Carmen Ejogo) about becoming a mother now that their own mother is deceased. And the last few shots express beautifully and almost wordlessly what it means to find home, wherever that may be.
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