Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Away We Go

The film Away We Go is not, I don't think, your average hip, Sundance-y independent film. There's nothing particularly great about it. The main characters, played by Maya Rudolph and John Krasinski, aren't very unusual or compelling. If anything, the actors underplay the roles, presumably so you won't think of them as "that woman from SNL and that guy from The Office." They can do "straight." They're educated and in their early thirties, and she's pregnant. The plan is to raise the child where they've recently moved, an unidentified, kind of rural place that seems like it's in the Northeast, like upstate New York, Massachusetts or Western Pennsylvania. The main thing this area has going for it is the presence of his parents, who are wacky as only Catherine O'Hara can be, and who announce at dinner that they're moving to Belgium for two years and have already rented out their house. Our couple, Burt and Verona (yeah, I know), seem to have nothing else holding them to this place, and go off to find a place that will feel like home, a place of their own choosing, where they can start their new family.

Marriage is out-- seemingly because Verona's parents are dead and she just can't see herself having a wedding without them present. Plus, she just doesn't believe or care about it. "I'll never leave you; I promise." The entire marriage commitment comes down to this, and as they move around the country (and briefly into Canada), it seems true enough of the couples they meet. What is holding them together? A shared (and often demented) world view? Fear of being alone? The burden or blessing of children? If it weren't for the children, would any of these couples stay together? Finally, in the case of Burt's brother, even the presence of a child isn't enough. His wife has left him, occasioning a quick trip by Burt and Verona to Miami. The real problem of the film, the real problem of society and perhaps of several generations, now, (certainly mine and the ones after mine, but also maybe of a few before), is this lack of connection, this lack of a philosophy of connection. If the myth of romance fails, and your parents die or move away, what is holding anyone together?

The tenuousness of the whole project-- coupling, marrying, having children, putting down roots-- has never seemed so palpable.  They get increasingly desperate as their visits implode, deciding to move to Montreal on the basis of one/half a nice night out. That, however, also fades-- into the one exploration of the real depth of what marriage is about, bad times as well as good. Still, there must be something! I want to believe the romantic promises right along with Burt and Verona as they affirm them, but they sound so meager or even downright unbelievable ("But no one has been in love like us before, right?").  Eventually, the couple finds a place, and it's a place of indescribable beauty and also rooted to their own story. It's an American landscape, and hip, and solid, and presumably paid for. And, after the journey, it is clear they will have trouble and sadness, along with the joy. That's what life is. It's more frightening to think they might have a really hard time, given the track record in this film, finding people to be friends with! They seem intensely isolated, and the final location does nothing to assuage that isolation-- it comes completely without community.

I might be making too much of this film. It was written by Dave Eggers, who started McSweeney's and wrote A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. That book, too, is much, much better than its surface would lead you to believe. He wrote this movie with his wife, Vendela Vida, a writer in her own right. The two of them spend most of their time now, it seems, writing about extreme subjects-- people in poverty and suffering from human rights abuses around the world. Eggers has also given a large amount of money and time and energy to connecting people to local communities and promoting writing groups in public schools. Which adds another layer to it for me. 

And if you don't go see it based on all these things, at least go see it for the absolutely hilarious scenes with Maggie Gyllenhall as a woman named "LN" (Yes, Ellen), and her academic uber-mom performance. That alone is worth the price of the rental.

1 comment:

Song of the little road said...

hey

I would love to watch the movie " Away we go" now.

Thanks for the closer view of the movie.