The degree to which you will be able to enjoy Away We Go will greatly depend on how much you can identify with, or at least sympathetically recognise, the type of people that the two lead characters are. Burt Farlander and Verona De Tessant are a de facto couple in their early-30s who are three months away from the birth of their first child. They are part of the demographic of thirtysomethings who are very much aware that they’ve arrived at a point in life where they are yet to have achieved anything of material worth and their future is far from certain. Living a lifestyle that is situated somewhere between bohemia and lower middle-class, the onset of parenthood is of some concern. When Burt’s parents decide to move to Belgium, which is ironically viewed by Burt and Verona as selfish, the pair realise that their support base has gone and they need to figure out what part of North America they should live in to best suit their impending arrival.
Away We Go is structurally similar (but tonally very different) to recent Jim Jarmusch films such as Broken Flowers and The Limits of Control since it is an episodic road movie made up of vignettes. The various friends and family that Burt and Verona meet up with represent a broad range of social groups and attitudes towards family. Some of the encounters edge into grotesque caricature territory while others are more genuine and sincere. However, all modes work as the sincere moments are touching and the caricature moments are appropriately designed to target people who are frankly worthy of ridicule. In particular, Maggie Gyllenhaal is wonderfully despicable as Burt’s wealthy childhood friend LN who lives the sort of privileged self-righteous faux-hippy lifestyle that only the rich can afford to live.
John Krasinski (Leatherheads, the USA version of The Office) and Saturday Night Live regular Maya Rudolph are perfectly cast as Burt and Verona. They have the chemistry of long term lovers whose relationship is past the early days of wild romance and is now built upon respect, mutual admiration and a deep trust in the way they feel for each other. Written by an actual husband and wife team (Dave Eggers, who also co-wrote Where the Wild Things Are, and novelist Vendela Vida), Away We Go successfully explores the dynamics of a normal and stable relationship. Burt and Verona are portrayed as very much in love and their acknowledged and shared uncertainty plays a significant part in what keeps them together. Despite his reputation as a visually stylish director, Sam Mendes has taken a very low-key approach to Away We Go and by doing so has made his best film since American Beauty.