‘Away We Go’ is too polite to contemplate satirical targets

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, June 11, 2009 4:54pm
  • Life

“Away We Go” is an awkward blend of amiability and satire.

Much of the niceness resides with its young couple, Burt and Verona, two people who have spent much of their first 35 years or so idly avoiding responsibility.

Not that the movie takes them to task for this. Burt (played by John Krasinski, from “The Office”) and Verona (“Saturday Night Live” vet Maya Rudolph) don’t get much scrutiny in any way, even as they wonder whether they’ve messed up something essential in life.

Circumstances are forcing them to reassess, because Verona is pregnant and they need a place to live. Now that Burt’s parents (Jeff Daniels and Catherine O’Hara) are moving to Antwerp for two years, there isn’t much reason to stick near the old hometown.

The rest of the movie is an odyssey, auditioning some possible settling-down places while visiting friends. The road leads to Phoenix, Madison, Montreal, and beyond, although the movie is strangely immune to the actual business of being on the road.

Screenwriters Dave Eggers (author of the influential memoir-novel “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius”) and Vendela Vida save their satirical barbs for the people met along the journey.

The Phoenix friends are caricatures of bad taste, played to perfection by Jim Gaffigan and former “West Wing” goddess Allison Janney (she gives the performance of the movie).

Maggie Gyllenhaal and Josh Hamilton play ultra-P.C. loonies in a college town, and Melanie Lynskey and Chris Messina play a relatively well adjusted couple in Canada.

Some of these vignettes are amusing, but the toothless nature of the script makes something like “Juno” seem like hard-hitting social criticism.

In the same way, Krasinski and Rudolph are appealing (she did some of the most brilliantly lived-in “SNL” characters since the heyday of Gilda Radner), yet dull. Their ordinariness might be intended, but they sure make the movie feel, well, ordinary.

There’s a sense that the movie is reaching for a generational statement of some kind, but without the anger of something like “The Graduate,” it’s hard to make that stick.

“Away We Go” is directed by Sam Mendes, whose “American Beauty” did have that simmering level of anger, and was a more memorable experience because of it. But this time Mendes seems out of touch with the young Americans he’s looking at.

The flabby storytelling exists on every level. (After setting up the necessity for Burt and Verona to take Amtrak, the movie doesn’t do anything with train travel.)

And when it ends, you might wonder “Why didn’t you just do this in the first place?” rather than feel the inevitability of a just-right conclusion. Not a good sign.

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