There’s something so utterly winning about this romantic comedy by Sam Mendes with a smart/funny script by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida. Verona (Maya Rudolph) and Burt (John Krasinski) are an unmarried couple expecting their first child. They decide to visit friends and relatives across the country and into Canada to see what it would be like to relocate and settle down somewhere else. But each encounter makes them more fearful of what it will be like to be parents. There’s a crass scarily funny Allison Janney in Phoenix, a preposterous hippie couple (Maggie Gyllenhaal & Josh Hamilton) with a psychotic aversion to strollers in Madison, a loving father (terrific Chris Messina) with many adopted children but many miscarriages in Montreal, Burt’s brother (Paul Schneider) whose wife has abandoned him and their young daughter in Miami. The crux of this movie is the totally believable loving relationship between Burt and Verona. Maya Rudolph has a funny, no nonsense, but vulnerable quality, and John Krasinski has a scruffy, sweet, solid goodness to him. It makes the ending doubly poignant and achingly romantic.
Sam Mendes’s “Away We Go” (June 5), a sometimes raucous, sometimes melancholy road movie, concerns the obstacles a young couple who are expecting their first baby encounter in their search for a place to put down roots—preferably near friends—and raise a family. Although they aren’t planning to tie the knot (her decision), for fans of “Saturday Night Live” and “The Office” this is a marriage made in comedy heaven, with John Krasinski as the amiable Burt and Maya Rudolph as his bulging beloved, Verona.
Mr. Krasinski has been moving into films lately, most notably as the all-American football hero in George Clooney’s “Leatherheads,” but he remains best known as the most likable, least paranoid character on “The Office.” As for his co-star, in her seven-year stint on “Saturday Night Live,” Ms. Rudolph played practically everyone—some 72 characters, ranging from a space alien to Michelle Obama to a blues belter who delivers a hilariously cracked version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at a sporting even (perhaps a winking shout-out to the mother she lost to cancer long ago, the R&B singer Minnie Riperton.
Until now it would be fair to call Mr. Krasinski the subtler comic actor, if only because some of Ms. Rudolph’s most memorable turns on “SNL” were such gut-busters. But in “Away We Go,” they are both subtle, working off each other like expert musicians who have been playing together for years. Her Verona is the more opaque; she’s quiet and, without seeming sour or depressed, doesn’t smile a lot. During a visit with Burt’s narcissistic parents, she’s polite but just reserved enough that we know she thinks they are awful. We come to feel the weight of their situation—her advancing pregnancy, their lack of a proper home—in her pensiveness.
It’s fascinating performance, because, like her character, she doesn’t come to us: we have to read her. By contrast, Mr. Krasinski’s shaggy Burt is a warm enthusiast, hoping for the best. At one point, he explodes at some truly terrible people, and Mr. Krasinski shows us a man so angry it makes him inspired, but, true to his character, never mean.
Most of all, though, Mr. Krasinski and Ms. Rudolph show us how they mesh—he buoys her, she grounds him. The result is one of the most credible couples ever to grace a move screen. In the few scenes where Burt and Verona are apart, we wait to see them together because that’s when they each seem most whole.
Sitting in a quiet corner of the Mercer Hotel recently, Saturday Night Live alumna Maya Rudolph, curls demurely pinned back, was dressed in a soft pink sweater over a black dress that just barely showed the swell of her second pregnancy with her long-term partner, Paul Thomas Anderson, the director of There Will Be Blood. “I will be ordering breakfast throughout the day,” she warned.
Ms. Rudolph needs the energy. At 36, she is not only a soon-to-be mother of two (daughter Pearl is 3 and a half), but for the first time playing the lead female role in a movie: Away We Go, directed by Sam Mendes, from a screenplay written by the married novelists Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, arriving in theaters on June 5. “Nobody prepares you for how much of a brain fuck it all is,” she said of the consequent media attention. “This one journalist outed me”—meaning the pregnancy, which accidentally became breaking news in early May. “I should have just told her I was fat and she would have felt terrible. Hindsight really is 20-20. … But it is weird when someone is like, ‘I don’t know you … but I’m going to change your life!’”
Away We Go may also change Ms. Rudolph’s life, from that of rubber-faced, musical ensemble player to legitimate star. Funny and poignant, it features her and The Office’s John Krasinksi as a couple expecting their first baby but with no idea of where to call home. They embark on a road trip across America; Catherine O’Hara, Jeff Daniels, Allison Janney and Maggie Gyllenhaal all pop up in supporting roles. But it is Ms. Rudolph who stands out: quieter, more still and self-contained than she ever was parodying Donatella Versace, Beyoncé or Christina Aguilera on the Studio 8H stage. “She’s kind of magical, really,” Mr. Mendes said on the phone. “People think, ‘Oh, she’s funny’, and they know her from sketch comedy. But she grounds the film. She’s so much the heart of the movie.”
“Did he really say that?” Ms. Rudolph said, pantomiming tears. “Did he tell you that I said the dumbest thing in my audition? I was all, ‘I really love this movie and I hope that if I can’t do it that you’ll get someone really great.’ It was one of those things where it’s like … really? That’s what you want to say at your job interview?”
She had fallen hard for the script. “I appreciated the description of Verona”—her character—“that she had what she considered problem hair and would sometimes stick things in it to keep it up. I know that person. I’ve lived with that person for 30-something years.”
But seriously … “I just thought, ‘I have to be a part of this,’” Ms. Rudolph said. “There was a part of me somewhere in the back of my brain that really truly always imagined getting a chance to do something like this, as crazy as that sounds. I never really knew what that was but I knew I wanted to do something special.”
“Special” was probably Ms. Rudolph’s genetic destiny. Her mother was the late, great soul singer Minnie Riperton; her father the songwriter Richard Rudolph. Just before Maya’s seventh birthday, Riperton died of breast cancer, only 31. Her most famous ballad, “Lovin’ You,” written by her husband, contains a “la-la” chorus she used to sing to soothe Maya to sleep, and high notes Mariah Carey only wishes she could hit. Ever see an American Idol contestant try and perform that song? Instant failure and a spot on the loser reel.
“Do they really try and sing that? That’s a really bad idea,” Ms. Rudolph said. “I think we should send a message to anyone who auditions for that show that it’s safer to go with a different song because technically, nobody has that register. Just to make them feel better, I can’t sing it! So they shouldn’t even try.”
After the end of her Saturday Night Live run, Ms. Rudolph, Mr. Anderson and Pearl moved back to Los Angeles, where Ms. Rudolph grew up (she attended St. Augustine by the Sea School with Gwyneth Paltrow, still a close friend). “It’s my hometown,” she said. “And it’s nice when you are starting your family to be near family.”
Meanwhile, she’s about to rejoin the SNL family (including David Spade, Rob Schneider and Colin Quinn) as Chris Rock’s wife in an Adam Sandler–scripted comedy tentatively titled Grown Ups. “I feel like we’re from the same school and I’m JV and they’re from varsity,” Ms. Rudolph said modestly. She initially refused to watch the dailies of Away We Go, but then forced herself to sit down and watch the film. Told that The Observer had cried (audibly) at certain scenes, she said: “That makes me weirdly happy. And, I’ll tell you, I cried too. And that then made me laugh at myself, ’cause I’m a crazy person. I mean, I’m watching myself. I knew what was coming!” She laughed. “It’s so stupid. But it moved me.”
A Juno for 30-somethings, Sam Mendes’s sweet-natured Away We Go tells the story of soon-to-be parents Burt (John Krasinksi) and Verona (Maya Rudolph), who are trying to figure out “how to live.” Zipping from Montreal to Miami in search of a place that feels like home, they bump up against a wide range of possible lives, from the hilarious boozing of Verona’s ex-boss (Allison Janney) to the smugness of Burt’s professor friend, LN (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a monster of New Age PC. Enjoyably loose yet neatly structured, this beautifully shot road pictue was written by literary It couple Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, whose portrait of modern romance is at once funny and a tad precious - a heartfelt hymn to hip decency.
I’ve never been a big fan of Bob Marley nor have I ever played billiards with any skill. But when a reggae pool hall opened up nearby, and friends dragged me there, I discovered that this combination of two things I wasn’t fond of somehow magically worked in tandem.
So it is with “Away We Go,” which teams director Sam Mendes (“Revolutionary Road,” “American Beauty”) and co-writer Dave Eggers (“A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius”), two artists whose previous works have failed to move me but who have, working in concert, managed to pull off a smart and sweet story about a couple on the verge of parenthood trying to make sense out of the next chapter of their lives.
It’s hard to say whether Mendes and Eggers (who co-wrote with his wife, Vendela Vida) complement each other’s weak spots or if one manages to bring out the best in his collaborator, but ultimately it doesn’t matter: Even those who aren’t a fan of either should give “Away We Go” a shot.
Verona (Maya Rudolph) and Burt (John Krasinski) are a longtime couple expecting their first child. They’re not married, because Verona doesn’t believe in it, but the two are obviously devoted to each other. When Burt’s parents (Catherine O’Hara and Jeff Daniels), who live nearby, announce that they’ll be moving away to Belgium before the baby is born, Verona and Burt realize that nothing is tethering them to their current location, and so they decide to visit friends and family in other cities to decide where to begin anew.
Their first stop is Phoenix, home of Verona’s old boss Lily (Allison Janney), who’s prone to saying the most inappropriate things at the loudest volume, and her glum, apocalypse-minded husband Lowell (Jim Gaffigan). They pop by to see Verona’s sister Grace (Carmen Ejogo) in Tucson, where we find out that Verona is still getting over the death of her parents many years earlier.
There’s a comic visit to Madison, where Burt’s childhood friend LN (Maggie Gyllenhaal) has become an obnoxiously hippy-dippy and condescending earth mother, followed by a poignant trip to Montreal, where college chums Tom (Chris Messina) and Munch (Melanie Lynskey) are raising a house full of adopted children but longing to get pregnant on their own as well. (Tom offers a sage bit of parenting advice by noting that he never lets the kids watch anything after “So Long, Farewell” in “The Sound of Music” — they can find out about the whole Nazi thing later, he reasons.)
They wind up in Miami, where Burt’s brother Courtney (Paul Schneider) is dealing with a wife who’s suddenly gone AWOL, throwing Burt into a semi-panic about his own unmarried state.
Over the course of their journey, Verona and Burt struggle with burrowing deeper into adulthood — “We’re 34, and we don’t have the basic stuff figured out!” she laments — but we get a wonderful portrait of two people that fit together perfectly enough to face whatever life should chuck their way. (There’s a running gag involving Burt and the baby’s heart-rate monitor that makes you understand why Verona adores him.)
I haven’t seen a lot of characters like these in American movies — they’re not slackers of the Judd Apatow school, but they have managed to get into their 30s without really committing to the idea of maturity. Their house has cardboard windows (despite the fact that they live somewhere with a pronounced winter), and Burt lapses into a “grown-up” voice when talking to insurance clients on the phone, as though being an adult were an impersonation that he occasionally performs at parties.
Having a child means, ostensibly, no longer being one yourself, and “Away We Go” perfectly captures that shifting of the axis whereby two people transition from just getting by to actually thinking about the future for themselves and for their family-to-be. But this isn’t the dream of mom and dad and 2.5 kids promised after World War II; Burt and Verona are living in today’s uncertain times, and the anxiety of a generation who knows they can’t rely on jobs, banks or government to see them through their lives permeates even the lightest moments of the movie.
That central relationship and its shifting moods are among the strongest facets of Eggers’ and Vida’s screenplay, but it’s the stunning performances by Rudolph and Krasinski that close the deal. They’ve each shined on TV and in small film roles, but this is the first chance that either has had to create such rich movie characters, and they pull it off brilliantly. The supporting cast — particularly Gyllenhaal, Messina and Josh Hamilton (as LN’s partner) — make the most of their individual vignettes, but it’s clearly the lead couple’s show all the way.
I could have lived without Alexi Murdoch’s whispery, singer-songwriter-y score (the one element of “Away We Go” that’s going to immediately age badly), but that’s about the only thing that sticks out in an otherwise charming and surprising film.
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.
"Away We Go," a Focus Features release, is rated R for language and some sexual content. Running time: 90 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.
Away We Go strikes an artful balance between satirical comedy and heart-wrenching drama. And even more unusual, it achieves this in the context of a road trip.
Nimbly directed by Sam Mendes (Revolutionary Road) from a sharply observed and witty screenplay by novelists Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, Away We Go is a movie with memorable and engaging performances.
John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph are one of the most appealing and believable screen couples to star in a romantic comedy. Not only do they project terrific chemistry, but they adeptly switch between broad comedy and poignancy, sometimes in the same scene.
This is even more noteworthy because neither has much film experience, having both made their names in television comedies —The Office in Krasinski's case and Saturday Night Live for Rudolph. Mendes deserves credit for choosing them as leads, and also for the quirky supporting cast. Maggie Gyllenhaal and Allison Janney give hilarious performances in roles that are extreme yet familiar.
The premise of this road comedy is the couple's journey to several U.S. cities and Montreal in search of the right place to settle and raise the baby they are expecting.
Verona (Rudolph) worries that they are screw-ups (she uses another, unprintable, word) and Burt (Krasinski) tries in his awkwardly charming way to allay her concerns. In their myriad reactions to offbeat behavior and unanticipated situations, they come across like a real-life couple, even people we might know.
The notions of what it takes to raise a family and what constitutes a happy upbringing are explored in subtle and intriguing ways as the pair visit friends and relatives.
Should they settle in Phoenix near Lily (Janney), Verona's brashly honest colleague? Or perhaps they'd be better off in a Wisconsin college town near LN (Gyllenhaal), Burt's childhood friend with a child-rearing style that is a weird blend of rigid and politically correct?
In Montreal they visit college friends with an eclectic and happy family, and things seem to be crystallizing. But they are called away on a family matter that makes them delve deeper into complicated feelings.
Away We Go is an exploratory and occasionally bittersweet trek that takes unexpected turns and winds up in an emotionally satisfying place.