Saturday, June 27, 2009

Mendes goes organic

Away We Go surprised me. It made me think twice about every snide comment I've ever made at the expense of director Sam Mendes. It's like the anti-Mendes film. Archetypes are replaced with real characters. Grand moral statements are traded for honest uncertainty. There is something unpredictable if not inevitable about the way the screenplay by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida unfolds. The movie has a breezy, melancholy, spirit of discovery -- we feel as though we are discovering the world all over again through the eyes of John Krasinsky and Maya Rudolph, as they prepare for the birth of their first child and contemplate what kind of parents they'll be. Touring North America from Albequerque to Montreal, they encounter various couples who have devised their own unique child-rearing strategies and are now facing the consequences of their decisions.

The story is episodic, but the episodes add up to a refreshingly inconclusive perspective on parenthood. It's like Mendes has gone organic and traded in the stagy artifice of his previous work (American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Revolutionary Road) for something disarmingly raw and authentic. This little movie succeeds where many fail by showing us who we really are: erratic, complicated, confused creatures. At times the script meanders and there doesn't always seem to be a point, but the denouement ties everything together. Away We Go speaks to a generation of 30-somethings who are disillusioned with the state of the world, skittish about bringing children into it, and yet forced to go blindly forth without knowing whether or not they are up to the task. The performances are funny and at times achingly poignant. This is a fresh and relevant new indie film and history may be far kinder to it than some critics have been.

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