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Burt and Verona are two young chicks who haven’t quite left the nest yet.  Yes, they’re in their thirties and living on their own, but within yelling distance of Burt’s parents, which will be mighty handy for them when the little bundle who’s turned up as a surprise to the couple is born.  A small wrench is thrown into the portrait of prenatal bliss when the grandparents-to-be impulsively decide to run off to live in Europe, missing the birth of their grandchild and taking away any help the first time parents might need.  Having no reason to stay in the shabby little house they moved into to be closer to Burt’s family, the pair reassesses their situation and decides to seek out a true home of their own; somewhere they want to live and make a family for their baby while it’s still just the two of them.  Calling on friends and relatives across the country and Canada, Verona and Burt see various examples of motherhood and relationships that range from the tender and supportive, to the terrifying and strange.  It is somewhere in these snapshots of domestic life that Verona and Burt will sort out exactly the kind of family they want to build around their baby.

Above all its road movie trappings, Away We Go is first and foremost a love story.  Sam Mendes’ most personal film is an adoring Hallmark card to mothers and young love everywhere.  He captures the shock of outsiders being thrust into some bizarre family dynamics; the carelessly abusive stridency of Verona’s outrageous former boss’ family, where the parents are loud and vulgar and don’t speak to their children except to humiliate them.  The insufferably pompous new age mom treats her children as gods and observes no structural boundaries, no matter how inappropriate; looking down on parents too primitive to follow her overbearing example.  Their Canadian friends, Tom and Munch, who live like a pair of Old Mother Hubbards, in a passel of adopted children of all races and ages, whose real devotion to their tribe can’t erase the pain of not being able to sire a child of their own.  Burt’s brother, Courtney is knocked sideways when he suddenly finds himself a single father after his wife abruptly abandons him and their little girl.  There are also the couple’s own frailties to face; Verona’s refusal to make an honest man out of Burt, and her own unresolved issues with her younger, more settled sister and their parents’ death.  Every new stop, for better or worse, helps the expectant parents decide the home and the life they want to provide for their own child.

Heartwarming, insightful, and truly funny, Away We Go is an utter gem.  Each vignette works well on its own and their arrangement makes the most of broader moments while bolstering up the more heart wrenching scenes.  At the center are Burt and Verona, who, like so many other young folks these days, simply don’t know what they want.  They’ve reached their thirties, the years when they believe they should have been settled down ages ago, and this unexpected new addition to their tightly-drawn nucleus forces them to take a critical look at the rest of their lives.

Much of the charm of Away We Go is derived from its fantastic cast.  As the thoughtful, sanguine Verona, Maya Rudolph is absolutely luminescent.  Overwhelmed at the thought of bringing a life into the world, she’s a study in maternal doubt and worry, edged with the determination to find the best path.  As her babydaddy, John Krasinski is adorable as the shaggy, adoring Burt, optimistic and hilariously supportive, his misgivings have more to do with what their relationship as a couple will be than in being parents.  Rudolph and Krasinski together are naturally charming and wonderful and I could have watched their travels for hours.  As their first stop on this pre-natal road trip, Alison Janney is a bawdy hoot as the outrageous Lily, taking her discomfort at settling down and raising a family out on her husband, kids and anyone within shouting distance.  Catherine O’Hara and Jeff Daniels are a riot as Burt’s parents, who suddenly opt for selfishness over grandparent’s duties; moving thousands of miles away from their adult kids, leaving them anchorless in the midst of their first pregnancy.  Maggie Gyllenhaal is fabulously slap-worthy as LN (née: Ellen), the pretentious new age mother who practically faints into the vapors when Burt and Verona thoughtfully buy a stroller for her kids.  Apparently, thought of “pushing away” her babies is anathema to the arrogant, superior supermom, who shares her bed with both her small children and her lover with no need to censor their adult needs.  Melanie Lynsky is mesmerising as the heartbroken Munch, who despite being at the center of a loving home full of adopted kids, cannot fill the void of an empty womb.  Her sensuous pole dance at a bar’s amateur night achingly reveals the vitality and useless youth of a woman who simply cannot give birth and so desperately yearns to.

This is one road trip that made me so sad when it was over.  I simply wanted to keep following this wonderfully written couple all the way into the birthing chair.  Mendes’ leaves us with a light, wistful note that does satisfy and brings together the real point of Burt and Verona’s journey; not just to find a new place to live, but to find a real home and themselves. They discover that both of these are sometimes found in the last place you look and how good it feels to know you really can go home again.

Really lovely, this.



~ The Lady Miz Diva

June 4th, 2009








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