Tuesday, September 29, 2009

DVD review: "Away We Go"

Director Sam Mendes' first film, "American Beauty," won a slew of Oscars, and he's had his ups and downs since then. Last fall's "Revolutionary Road," pairing Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in a disintegrating marriage, was a major disappointment. But Mendes redeems himself somewhat with "Away We Go," a funny and quirky take on relationships.

John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph play Burt and Verona, an unmarried but committed couple expecting a baby. They're in their early 30s, a bit scatterbrained and irresponsible, but basically good people.

When Burt's parents -- whom they'd hoped to rely upon for child care help -- suddenly decide to move away, Verona and Burt begin a cross-country trip to find a new home.

They visit a variety of friends and relations, played by wonderful actors like Catherine O'Hara, Jeff Daniels and Allison Janney. The hosts grow increasingly kooky, and as enjoyable as these visits are, we come to realize that such characters exist only in the movies.

But still, I was never bored and the laugh-out-loud moments, while spread fairly far apart by screenwriters Vendela Vida and Dave Eggers, earn their chuckles.

Maggie Gyllenhall has a particularly hilarious turn as Burt's cousin, who takes the whole earth-mother routine to such an extreme that she angrily rejects their gift of a baby stroller: "Why would I want to push my child away from me?!?"

DVD extras are decent in scope, but less than impressive. A 16-minute making-of documentary contains more hype than insight, and a featurette about how they endeavored to keep the production environmentally friendly is just self-congratulatory fluff.

Mendes, Eggers and Vida team up for a feature-length commentary that consists mostly of moment-by-moment observations about the circumstances of how each scene was written and/or shot.

In addition to the DVD bonus material, the Blu-ray version contains a small amount of material available only online.

Movie: 3 stars
Extras: 2.5 stars

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