It’s official: in the future, everyone will get a feature-length movie made about their lives. Rich and poor, fat and thin, scintillating or trite. With the arrival of Sam Mendes’ Away We Go, the good fortune has now been bestowed upon the insufferably uninteresting; perhaps the two people alive whose presence would not improve an empty room. We all knew the revolution of twee was, to put it mildly, homegrown and damn near omnipresent, but now it’s a matter of course; a birthright with the genetic predisposition to enrage. The two latest and greatest to offend, Burt (John Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph), are (at last) saddled with reasonably normal names, but the encounters that pass for a plot are anything but. Desperate to find a suitable home for their unborn child after being informed that Burt’s parents are moving to Belgium, the two young lovebirds embark on the old standby, the journey of discovery. Only they don’t really go anywhere, or find adventure, or react to much of anything at all. They are ciphers before, during, and after their pseudo-vacation, and will likely remain so throughout their criminally mundane lives. Sure, it’s a twist that the central figures of a contemporary American movie aren’t the fevered, eccentric creations of an ivory tower screenwriter, but erring on the side of caution — in this case, the side without a beating heart, working brain, or much by way of bodily movement — is hardly an improvement.
The movie gets off to an eye-rolling start when, while Burt is eating Verona’s pussy, he remarks that she tastes different. Not just different, but “sweeter.” It’s a change only an attentive lover would notice, so it struck someone like me as odd that females had much of an aroma at all that wasn’t related to stripping the room of hope, oxygen, and an overall joie de vivre. But we know what’s next. Verona is pregnant, which is always an ominous sign for any movie that promises entertainment, but I chose to remain, if only for the hope that the fetal worm would turn. The first stop for our resident dullards is the home of Burt’s mother and father, who must, by contrast, be obnoxiously selfish and oblivious, though that’s how they’re meant to come off, even if reality says something entirely different. Yes, they always seem to say what’s on their minds and disrupt the baby talk with news of their own, but since when was it an act of war to be a tad less than gushing in the face of a baby-to-be? If Burt and Verona were being honest, they’d be less accusatory towards the folks (who have likely earned a right to live for themselves at last), and more up front about the real reason for their rage: losing a pair of willing, and decidedly free babysitters. As most kids despise the awkward twits who raised them, they only react to their physical removal if it involves some variety of personal inconvenience.
Soon, they’re off to the first of possible homes, announced most obnoxiously by giant letters on the screen, last seen in some forgettable garbage by Wes Anderson (he poisons our cultural well even when he’s not working). It’s Phoenix, and rather than get any real sense of the city (though it’s not much more than big, hot, and filthy), we spend all our time with Verona’s friend, played with scenery-chewing gusto by Allison Janney. There never really was an alternative to her Lily being a monstrous cartoon, and she dutifully hits her marks, first by berating her children (she openly rips them as lesbians-in-training or fat weirdos) and then by lustily attacking Burt as they leave for Tucson. Even Lily’s husband is a nasty swine, as he ridicules Burt’s job (he sells insurance futures, whatever the hell that means) and acts indifferent to the whole rotten enterprise. Since the script is co-written by the smugly sickening (or is it sickeningly smug?) Dave Eggers, we expect our heroes to be the lone repositories of virtue, but when they lack all shading, the film (or any film) runs the risk of conflicting loyalties. I know we’re taking this ride with Burt and Verona, witnessing all kinds of pathology so that they might know how not to parent, but whenever the objects of scorn hold more of our interest, we wonder less what’s going to transpire than why the camera doesn’t ditch these pukes and stay with the assholes. At least they have a pulse.
Having struck out in Phoenix, they rush off to Tucson, where they meet Verona’s sister, who at least has the good sense to be normal, though equally boring as her sibling. Sure, the encounter gives the girls a chance to talk about their dead parents (thanks again, Mr. Eggers), but to no real end. It’s just chatter; white noise that gets us to the next destination. Next up is Madison, Wisconsin, and once again, we don’t get any sense of the city itself other than the few people we wouldn’t cross the street to save from certain death. Here, it’s an old friend of Burt’s, a silly hyper-feminist who, though stereotypically insipid, is just about the only authentic creation who stumbles within earshot. Played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, “LN” is the kind of professor who gives any working adult hives, as she breast-feeds her kids in her office when not strutting about the classroom peddling outdated lies. LN is a lactivist, which, for the unfamiliar, means that she believes her breasts are imbued with the magical powers of earth, wind, and fire, and should be exposed at will at all times, especially when they’re most likely to cause an argument with the less enlightened. LN hates strollers because they involve “pushing away” one’s children, and her house is a wall-to-wall den of hippie self-righteousness, right down to the excessive use of candles, giant bed (where all, including the children, sleep), and faint New Age soundtrack. It stands to reason she’s married to a furiously sanctimonious layabout who disdains work only so far as his wife is bringing home a healthy paycheck.
So while the diversion to Madison might produce genuine anger at a source other than Burt and Verona, it’s still quite apparent that at the very least, the demented feminist offers an opinion on the world around her. She’s insane, but when unexpectedly called on it by the suddenly outraged couple, it’s less a victory for truth and justice than a long overdue rousing of the audience from its slumber. And hell, Burt only cares because he’s been personally insulted (the hippie husband scoffs at Burt’s job), rather than taking any real stand against what amounts to child abuse. After all, isn’t this woman Burt’s friend (“cousin”, though not by blood, in an explanation too boring to repeat)? She didn’t embrace madness overnight, so I imagine the failure to challenge her before this had much to do with his weakness and shrugging indifference. Burt is the worst of all criminal types — he plays along to get along, and shuts his mouth to conflict because he hasn’t the chops to risk being disliked. At least LN lives for something, even if it’s fundamentally evil. Regardless, it wouldn’t have been enough for LN to be a little silly; she has to be off the fucking charts, I’m guessing because subtlety never led to an applause line.
Montreal follows, and because we don’t actually see one of the world’s great cities, the whole thing might as well have been filmed in Buffalo. On the surface, the married couple they visit are normal to the core, but lurking beneath is a sadness not even adopted children can overcome. You see, the wife has had numerous miscarriages, which means that she can’t ever be happy. I know for a fact that people are this crazy, but then again, I’ve never come across anyone who performed a morose, fully clothed pole dance to express the depression of their barren womb. I have no doubt, however, that Eggers’ black book is teeming with such people. The husband then uses toothpicks and syrup to illustrate his vision of happiness, which might mean something to those who require foodstuffs to convey life’s difficulties. Again, only in the social circle that is Dave Eggers’ dizzying existence. From Montreal to Miami, but only to comfort Burt’s brother, who has just been dumped by his wife. And she left a daughter behind! The visit is no better or worse than any of the others, though Burt does get to see that Verona is great with children (my, how she sings the little ones to sleep), and the couple do have a come-to-Jesus chat on a trampoline. Conclusions? Life is hard, love fades, and kids are a full-time job. If you’ve waited this long to hear these maxims for the first time, here’s hoping you don’t have wee ones of your own.