Ten years have rolled past since theatre maestro Sam Mendes gatecrashed Hollywood with American Beauty and instant Oscar triumph.
His three movies since then – Road To Perdition, Jarhead, Revolutionary Road – have been big, beautiful and always watchable.
They’ve also been burdened by self-consciousness and award-hungry weightiness. Which makes Away We Go a very sweet surprise.
Salesman Burt (John Krasinski) and pregnant partner Verona (Maya Rudolph) are the kind of characters you just don’t see in films. They’re not bored snipers, angsty assassins or neurotic suicidals. They’re just normal thirtysomethings. Well, they were. Now they have to be adults and parents.
So away we go, on an episodic US road trip in which the pair visit family and friends to look for the best place – and way – to raise their baby. The screenplay by married novelists Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida is sweary, funny and heartbreakingly tender.
It’s also lit up by terrific performances. Take Catherine O’Hara and Jeff Daniels as Burt’s self-obsessed parents, more excited about moving to Belgium than meeting their grandchild. Juno’s Allison Janney is fantastic as a foul-mouthed lush who guffaws about her suckeddry breasts in public (“They’re like hairy nut sacks!”). Best of all is Maggie Gyllenhaal as a hippie-mum who lives by the three Ss (“No separation, no sugar, no strollers”).
True, without a real structure and story, the movie sometimes drifts instead of driving. But there’s a restraint here that’s completely fresh and it allows the fine performances of Krasinski and Rudolph to breathe deeply. SNL-vet Rudolph is a major cinematic discovery, saying more with one look than with 10 lines.
In fact, the best moments are the quietest. Just wait for the most touching scene: Burt and Verona lying on a trampoline, talking to each other. It’s that kind of movie.
A rewarding change of pace for Sam Mendes, Away We Go is a small, lovely film that gently sneaks up on you with unexpected depth and feeling. Let it.