Man was I prepared to hate this movie. I was prepared to hate it so much. I was so prepared that even that damn part where Verona (Maya Rudolph) pointed out that she stapled the trip itinerary inside Burt’s (John Krasinski), which irritated me quite a bit in the trailer, irritated me much, much more in the context of the film. And for the first thirty or forty minutes, I was mostly irritated by the film. I hated its hipster posturing, I hated the way it thought that to be funny, one must create absurd, unrealistic stereotypes and then mock them relentlessly, and nothing—nothing—made me give a shit about these people.
And then…I did.
I’m not going to tell you the scene that won me over, lest its effect be lessened on you. I will say that the screenplay was working awful hard at trying to make me like Burt and Verona with a lot of really great lines and personality quirks, but it wasn’t until the film just sat and watched them come to a massive realization about someone in a very vulnerable situation that I truly loved these people. That section had done more than the combined minutes that preceded it to make me love these people, and this amazing scene cemented it.
And it only got better from there.
As road movies go, Away We Go is a little forced. This is a couple too broke to fix their window, but with sufficient means to fly and drive all around the country (and into Canada!), trying to look for a place to live and raise an unexpected child-to-be. The structure is incredibly familiar and, again, the first section of the second act (the film is mostly a second act, which is absolutely fine) is a mess, and completely off base. But the combination of the three great creative forces in cinema – writing, direction, and acting – eventually makes these characters everything we want them to be. John Krasinski’s range may be limited, but he does it damn well, and Maya Rudolph went way beyond her “black girl who sings” slot on Saturday Night Live to do her best work with, of all things, total silence. Verona isn’t given as much to do as Burt, but Rudolph makes her quiet, reserved manner a part of her character, rather than giving it all over to Krasinski.
The supporting cast is roundly great, and Mendes smartly picked incredibly talented actors to fill out the least interesting roles, so as a result the scenes with Catherine O’Hara and Jeff Daniels, Allison Janney and Jim Gaffigan, or Maggie Gyllenhaal become somewhat tolerable for the enjoyment we get from watching these performers play despicable scenes. But it says a lot that he asked the most from Chris Messina, Melanie Lynskey, and the great Paul Schneider; although it would take massively incapable actors to screw these scenes up, it helps to have actors as capable of these.
By the absolutely pitch-perfect ending, its contrivance didn’t bother me, for the film had successfully rescued itself from the pitfalls of the modern hipster comedy, and I love it without reservation.