The journey of Sam Mendes is an awkward one. A talented stage director, his first film came to win best picture, and fueled a (not undeserved) backlash against him. His second film was coolly received, while his next two pictured showed a lessening presence. Revolutionary Road was delayed for a year and was not the academy bait that was hoped for. For the summer of 2009 his most personal, and most satisfying film was released, Away We Go, and it shows a mellowed director dealing with personal issue is a way more satisfying way. My review after the jump.
Away We Go follows Burt Farlander (John Kransinski) and Verona De Tessant (Maya Rudolph). The two are together, not married it seems, but committed. They make their way around America trying to find a place to live. Along the way they meet old friends, some of whom have settled into marriage and become boring (Jim Gaffigan and Alison Tenney), others who’ve gone a less traditional approach (Maggie Gyllenhaal), all of whom are struggling with normal living (Melanie Lynskey and Chris Messina) and family (Catherine O’Hara, Jeff Daniels, Samantha Pryor, Paul Schnieder).
Episodic, the film is about coming to some kind of peace with growing up, and looking at options of futures/exploring the possibilities of the future. For people of the modern generations, getting married and having a kid is not necessarily all that is expected of them, and the idea of settling down has weird expectations/complications. The film captures that, though from the perspective of the upper middle class. This works in some ways as it eliminates money as a main concern of the narrative, but it’s also the film’s limitation, as the film is very much about the problems of the Bourgeois. This can be very off-putting for many, and I found myself slightly swayed by how these problems are those of people with the time and money to worry about them.
That said, I found myself lightly liking the film, mostly because Sam Mendes seems to have finally found a soul to his material. Everything else seemed liked a gimmick, well chosen, this feels heartfelt. It doesn’t feel overly stylized because there’s nothing at the center, it is a modest but character based drama that mostly succeeds in creating characters not caricatures. Some of the supporting players come off a little weaker than others, with Gyllenhaal’s hippie a little bit over the top. But the cumulative effect is worthwhile, if you can invest in the characters. Even if they don’t speak to you, it does come from someplace honest, which is a step in the right direction.
Universal’s Blu-ray presents the film in widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1. The transfer is perfect, though the audio has a very limited effect in the scheme of things. There’s a commentary by Mendes and screenwriters Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, which is a nice, loose chat track. There’s two featurettes, a making of (17 min.) which talks to the cast and crew in an extended EPK, and “Green Filmmaking” (7 min.) which highlights how the film was done with a conservationist touch, trying to be carbon neutral and all that.