The wife and I aren't really big fireworks people, so we decided to catch a movie last night, followed by a big strawberry shake from Steak 'N Shake. It looks like most of the big fireworks displays got canceled anyway due to rain, so I think we made a fine choice for the Fourth.
"Away We Go" is an enjoyable comedy-drama about quirky characters who revel in their own quirkiness. After a time we come to realize that such people exist only in the movies, and an entire film filled with them is a contrivance that soon grows old. But still, I was never bored and the laugh-out-loud moments, while spread fairly far apart, earn their chuckles.
John Krasinksi, the TV star of "The Office" whose first starring role in "Leatherheads" was just this side of a disaster, gives a terrific performance as Burt, half of a couple expecting a baby. Burt and Verona (Maya Rudolph) are in their early 30s, live in a ramshackle home, drive a rusting old Volva and are -- as folks like to say in the current economy -- underemployed.
They are unmarried (at Verona's insistence) but committed and joyfully expecting their daughter. Their lives are thrown for a loop when Burt's parents, who they moved to their current location to be near to, announce they are leaving for Belgium. Suddenly unfettered, they determine to visit a number of cities where they have families and friends to find a new home. So off they wing to Phoenix, Tucscon, Madson, Miami and Montreal.
Now, one can wonder (as Jean did) how two people can apparently have barely enough money to survive and be able to spend thousands of dollars on airplane flights, hotel rooms, car rental, meals, etc. But rookie screenwriters Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida do not concern themselves with such trivialities. Instead, they focus on introducing a cast of increasingly neurotic and improbable characters in each new city.
In Phoenix, they meet an old boss of Verona's who sees nothing wrong with telling her teen daughter she "walks like a dyke" and loudly announcing that she used to have large breasts until her children "sucked them dry."
By the time we get to Madison, they're dealing with a Burt cousin (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who's taken the earth-mother thing to the extreme, including breast-feeding both her children at once, even though the boy is about five. She views Burt and Verona's gift of a stroller as an insult: "Why would I want to push my child away from me?!?"
Things go on from there in a similar vein. As I say, I never really believed most of the characters as real, but they certainly are entertaining. Krasinski is a hoot as Burt, who's kind of a dweeb but just shines with an inner goodness. One of his best recurring bits is after he learns that their baby's heart rate is a little on the slow side, and that by agitating Verona they can raise it. This leads to a number of occasions, usually in public, where Burt sneaks up on her and starts screaming and cursing, followed by a shy smile and pulling up her shirt to listen with the baby monitor.
"Away We Go" was directed by Sam Mendes, whose first two films -- "American Beauty" and "Road to Perdition" -- were knockouts. Then came "Jarhead," a serviceable but unremarkable war drama, and last fall's "Revolutionary Road," a major disappointment. This new film is a worthy entry in his growing body of work, but not one of the high points.