When I wrote a book review for Dave Eggers's A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, I commented that I had read the book at just the right time. Had I read the book five years earlier I might not have got it and if I had read it five years later I might have been too cynical to buy into it. The same is almost true for the movie Eggers co-wrote, "Away We Go." The only hitch for me is this is a movie about parenting and I do not (nor will I ever) have children. Still, I watched it at the point where I'm not too young that parenthood seems like a far distant concept or too old and jaded about it.
The movie begins with Burt (John Krasinski of NBC's "The Office") discovering his life partner Verona (Maya Rudolph of NBC's SNL) is pregnant in a very unusual fashion that doesn't involve a rabbit or peeing on a stick. Six months later, they go to see Burt's oddball parents who have a surprise announcement: they're moving to Belgium for two years, starting a month before Verona is supposed to give birth. With the parents leaving, Burt and Verona decide it's time to leave their crappy house and find a new place to live.
Since Burt's job selling insurance futures (insurance for insurance companies) happens by phone and Verona's job doing medical illustrations happens by mail they can pretty much go anywhere. So they decide to have a sort of competition among their friends and family to find the perfect spot for raising their daughter.
They start by traveling to Phoenix, where they meet Verona's former employer and her husband, who take them (with their kids) to a dog or horse track, where it becomes painfully clear the couple are lushes. From there it's a short trip to Tucson where Verona meets her sister.
The next step of their journey is to Madison to see Burt's "cousin" LN. You can guess from her name that LN is not exactly normal. This becomes more clear when Burt and Verona interrupt her nursing her toddler. They make some more disturbing discoveries before taking off on the last leg of their trip to Montreal.
In Montreal are a couple of old college buddies who have adopted a bunch of kids of varying ethnicity but who can't seem to produce their own offspring. Things seem almost settled when Burt receives an SOS from his brother in Miami and away they go again.
There's a running joke in the movie that Burt is far too relaxed and placid, so that he can't really get upset at Verona (or anyone else) even though she refuses to marry him. When Burt does finally get upset at someone the effect is more comical than anything else. That and the soundtrack by mellow indie folk-pop artist Alexi Murdoch pretty much sum up the movie's entire vibe--it's mellow and laid back and really can't bring itself to get riled up. Throughout Burt and Verona's journey the only real obstacle they have to overcome is when the airline refuses to let Verona board the plane because they think she's too pregnant and doesn't have a doctor's note to say she's only six months along. The rest of the movie is pretty much watching Burt and Verona's wacky friends/family with bemusement. (This is markedly different from director Sam Mendes's other forays into couplehood: "American Beauty" and "Revolutionary Road." Though perhaps strung together they form kind of a timeline for relationships: "Away We Go" is the sweet beginning, "Revolutionary Road" the early struggles, and then "American Beauty" the last gasps of middle age. Maybe the next one should be about a geriatric couple.)
That's not to say this is a bad movie. It's sweet and touching and funny at parts. And it's not so syrupy that I actively wanted bad things to happen to Burt and Verona, a principle I refer to as reverse catharsis. If you're of the age where you're about to start a family and "settle down" then you can probably identify with it. If you've already started with your family then you might be a little too cynical for this.
I was a little too cynical in that while I think Burt and Verona have great intentions, I couldn't help wondering how things would play out for them after the baby is born. It would be really interesting to make a sequel in 3-4 years to see how things are for this loving, placid couple after midnight feedings, diaper changes, and the Terrible Twos. Somehow I bet there'd be more conflict then.
That is all.
My score: 75/100 (3 stars)
Metacritic score: 58/100 (2+ stars)