Away We Go
Directed by Sam Mendes, starring Maya Rudolph and John Krasinski
(Big Beach Films)
Verona and Burt are unmarried thirtysomethings living a twentysomething idyll. She’s a freelance medical illustrator. He sells insurance futures over the telephone, affecting a ridiculous take-charge voice that barely disguises his disdain for the clients on the other end of the line. They live in a cold, ramshackle dwelling in the middle of nowhere and drive a beat-up Volvo station wagon.
They float along in disengaged bliss until reality smacks them in the face — she discovers she’s pregnant. Two realizations follow: they want to raise the child together, and there is no way they can do it living the way they do. So they hit the road on a quest to find their inner adult and a place to put down roots.
The journey becomes a cross-country tour of 21st-century family dysfunction. Pit stops include Burt’s clueless, self-absorbed boomer parents in Colorado; a martini-swilling, trash-talking former colleague of Verona’s in Arizona; Burt’s doctrinaire new-age sister and her obnoxious hippie husband in Wisconsin; and a couple of old chums raising a small army of adopted kids in Montreal.
Each leg of the journey is like a short film-within-a-film. British-born director Sam Mendes and co-writers Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida rely on audience empathy to hold the narrative together. Verona and Burt are truly likeable; we mourn the inevitable loss of innocence waiting at their journey’s end — raising a child is a hard, serious business, no matter who you are or where you do it — but want to believe they can hang on to some of their quirkiness and even pass it on to their progeny. And we rejoice in their obvious affection for each other. Love will give them strength for the challenges ahead.
The film is sweet but it isn’t syrupy. A couple of scenes will leave you squirming on the sofa. Others will have you dabbing your eyes. But mostly the film will leave you feeling hopeful. Verona and Burt’s quest for parenting role models leads to the inescapable conclusion that raising a family today is a test of individual character. And one suspects that this charming, non-conformist couple will do just fine at it.
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