'Away We Go'

"Away We Go" reps a digression into loose, anecdotal Amerindie-style terrain.

“Away We Go” reps a digression into loose, anecdotal Amerindie-style terrain after helmer Sam Mendes’ starrier, more high-stakes screen projects. But this episodic dramedy — starring tube familiars John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph as a rudderless couple seeking a place to call home while on the brink of parenthood — emerges as an oddly sour, unappealing road-trip scenario. Penned by first-time scribes, alt-lit favorites and real-life spouses Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, pic will likely find some defenders, particularly among the authors’ fans. Still, its theatrical career launching June 5 looks to be short, with ancillary prospects modest.

Burt (Krasinski of NBC’s “The Office”) and Verona (“Saturday Night Live’s” Rudolph) are expecting their first child in rural Colorado, a habitat chosen for his parents’ proximity. (Hers died in an accident years earlier.) But blithe, self-absorbed Jerry (Jeff Daniels) and Gloria (Catherine O’Hara) suddenly announce they’re whimsically moving to Belgium — no matter that they’ll miss their grandchild’s birth.

This prompts the younger pair, having no friends, no job obligations (both are long-distance freelancers), to pack up and look for somewhere more suitable to live. They embark on a complicated flight itinerary to see old pals and explore potential new nesting places.

First stop is Phoenix, to see Verona’s former co-worker Lily (Allison Janney), husband Lowell (Jim Gaffigan) and their two children. But Lily has turned into such a vulgar, abusive gorgon that spouse and kids have retreated into gloomy withdrawal.

After a brief Tucson visit with Verona’s well-adjusted sister Grace (Carmen Ejogo), it’s on to another example of domestic hell: Burt’s childhood friend Ellen aka LN (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a smugly superior U. of Wisconsin Women’s Studies prof with a fawning, ponytailed layabout common-law husband (Josh Hamilton) and a son who still sleeps with them.

A seg in Montreal culminates in a bizarre stab at poignancy, while a quick Miami side-trip to see Burt’s distraught brother (Paul Schneider) prompts the pic’s best scene, a quiet tete-a-tete between the leads that sets up the pic’s low-key (if a little over-convenient) ending.

Burt’s a bit immature, and Verona, the grown-up of the couple, occasionally impatient (partly explained by the discomforts of advanced pregnancy). But the protags are essentially blank slates, despite the skill and charm Krasinski and Rudolph bring to the roles. It’s their job simply to represent “normal” against so many illustrations of bad parenting, worse marriages and damaged adulthood. But given they’re such harmlessly pleasant folk, why don’t they have any non-messed-up friends?

Because that would un-stack the deck in a script that needs to paint them as two lonely souls in a hostile world. But in positing normal as special, the pic requires caricaturing almost everyone else.

While handled by resourceful actors, the foibles of the supporting characters are less funny than they are forced and unpleasant. Janney and Gyllenhaal in particular play figures venomously conceived.

Meant to amp up the pic’s indie-quirky cred, the soundtrack, papered with lyrically trite soundalike cuts by Scottish singer-songwriter Alexi Murdoch, instead makes progress seem more meandering and monotonous. Other design/tech contributions are solid. Still, this alternately condescending and hazy material doesn’t trigger the kind of sharp aesthetic choices Mendes and collaborators made in response to past projects from “American Beauty” to “Revolutionary Road.”

“Away” is billed as the first studio production adopting green filmmaking initiatives to reduce CO2 emissions.

Away We Go

Production

A Focus Features release of a Focus Features presentation in association with Big Beach of an Edward Saxon/Big Beach production in association with Neal Street Prods. Produced by Edward Saxon, Marc Turtletaub, Peter Saraf. Executive producers, Mari Jo Winkler-Ioffreda, Pippa Harris. Directed by Sam Mendes. Screenplay, Dave Eggers, Vendela Vida.

Crew

Camera (color, Panavision), Ellen Kuras; editor, Sarah Flack; music, Alexi Murdoch; music supervisor, Randall Poster; production designer, Jess Gonchor; costume designer, John Dunn; art director, Henry Dunn; set decorator, Lydia Marks; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS), Ben Patrick; supervising sound editor, Paul Hsu; assistant directors, Timothy Bird, Jennifer Truelove; casting, Ellen Lewis, Debra Zane. Reviewed at Sony Metreon, San Francisco, April 28, 2009. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 97 MIN.

With

Burt - John Krasinski Verona - Maya Rudolph Gloria - Catherine O'Hara Jerry - Jeff Daniels Grace - Carmen Ejogo Lily - Allison Janney Lowell - Jim Gaffigan LN - Maggie Gyllenhaal Roderick - Josh Hamilton Tom - Chris Messina Munch - Melanie Lynskey Courtney - Paul Schneider

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