Dear friends, it’s been a minute since you heard from us, but we’re back, and you better believe we’ve been watching all kinds of things in our absence. Next up is Sam Mendes’ unbelievably sweet and criminally underseen Away We Go. The year was 2009 and John Krasinski hadn’t made the transition from small-screen hunk to major A-lister. Maya Rudolph was an SNL legend, but few knew about her dramatic chops. They came together with a slew of legendary talent to tell the story of a longtime couple expecting their first child and hitting the road to find a new home.
Our good pal Kelsey Waananen has more Away We Go hype than anyone we know, so she’ll be joining us for this one. But first, AM, as our the newb to this picture, we’re gonna need you to tell us why it was a KWAAN favorite from the long list of titles you have in store.
A: First of all, the music had KWAAN all over it, folky without being corny and full of expression. I actually cannot believe that I missed this movie, because it seems like the kind of film I too would have loved when it came out. I loved Krasinksi, I’ve always had a soft spot for Maya, AND road trip movie? 100% in.
I think this genre can be rightfully called “Millennium Growing Up Movie” and must include at least 2 of the following elements:
- A modestly handsome leading man with more charisma than smoulder
- A pretty-yet-normal leading lady who has a cool job and more than one quirk
- An alt-rock/folk soundtrack that certainly includes at least one Iron & Wine (or similar) band/artist
- An abnormal event or series of events that cause big changes for our characters
I actually think this film has a ton in common with Zach Braff’s Garden State, which came out in 2004, so I’ll be interested in Brooke’s take on that. While my life may have fewer quirky situations, I certainly can relate to what’s going on here. What are your thoughts?
B: Here’s the thing about Garden State, I’ve seen it a couple times, but Natalie Portman is always the only thing that sticks with me, so I’ll leave it to Kelsey to elaborate on this topic. Before I hand it off for her thoughts on why she adores this picture even more than I do, I’ll just say that it’s the timelessness that really gets me about Away We Go. The idea of people striking out to find their place in the world cuts right to the core of so many classic narratives and the quiet, unassuming way Sam Mendes frames this particular quest kills me (in a good way). I love Maya and John, but even more than that I adore the supporting cast, Maggie Gyllenhaal! Allison Janney! Danny Castellano from The Mindy Project! Jane Curtin!
And with that, I’ll kick it to KWAAN. Ready, set, rave.
K: I hadn’t even connected my love of this movie to the quirkiness of Garden State until it was mentioned at the viewing. But it totally fits. I loved that movie desperately, I think for the way it lets its characters be unrelentingly nuanced and in stages of drawn-out transition. What’s more relatable than that? And I couldn’t get enough of that soundtrack either.
As AM mentioned, Away We Go’s tunes got me good. I love, love, love when an artist gets to set an entire mood for the movie. The entire reason I watched Prince Avalanche was because Explosions in the Sky utterly nailed that very specific ambiance. And we all know Hunt for the Wilderpeople wouldn’t have been quite the total glory it is without Moniker there to get us bopping along to that odyssey. (I’m sensing the trend that I just really like very quirky movies.) Here, Alexi Murdoch and all his Nick Cave vibes set the stage for a very thoughtful journey into what it means to try to find your tribe and how to define “home.”
During the era of my first viewing, I was likely just in love with a sweet story and a happy ending. Now, about 10 years later, it warms me a bit to see all of these characters in stages of struggle: two future parents in their early ’30s considering, “Are we fuck-ups?,” the deadbeat parents in Arizona, the new-age kooks of Wisconsin, and possibly filthy rich parents-by-adoption in Montreal.
But Nicole, I need to know your thoughts on this movie I clearly hold so dear.
N: When I think of Sam Mendes, I think of the devastating Revolutionary Road, so it was a pleasant surprise to find him behind this film. Thematically, though, I think they both tackle the ideas of individuality and home. Whereas Revolutionary Road is the heartbreaking fallout of a family struggling to find and reconcile their identities within the physical location and life they have chosen, Away We Go is a heartwarming journey of discovering home, and in the process, an idea of their identity as parents. The trampoline scene is a beautiful culmination of this, with the vows John and Maya’s characters make to each other and for their child to come.
It’s also refreshing that the main characters are supportive partners and we can see them interact with such an array of different parents in various stages and lifestyles as Kelsey previously mentioned. Or should I say, as KWAAN previously mentioned?
Going back to the delightful supporting cast, AM, which couple would you like to grab a drink with?
A: I have to go with Lily and Lowell in Phoenix because Allison Janney. They may be awful parents, but they’d sure be fun to hang out with. Now, would I ever move back to Phoenix? NO WAY. I spent 6 years including my college years sweating through Arizona summers, and never again. Tucson is the worst place on the planet, as far as I’m concerned (and home to my aforementioned college rivals), so that’s also a hard pass.
On that vein, when I think about whether I’d undertake the same sort of “discovery of home” journey like Verona and Burt, I think I would. I moved back to Colorado 7 years ago (this week, actually), for many reasons, but one of the main ones was I have a lot of family here, including my parents. It’s certainly not a bad reason to move to a place, aside from having a job there or just really, really wanting to live there. And if one doesn’t really have parents (or parents that simply decide to up and move to Belgium on a moment’s notice), it follows that you’d want to try to find the family you do have, as unconventional as those people might be.
I’ll kick this back to Brooke: would you undertake this sort of journey?
B: Absolutely. I love a journey of self-discovery and there are few better ways to do that than to shake free of the familiar and strike out to new terrain. Also, I love a good road trip. Which actually brings me back to one of my most favorite things about Away We Go, it is as much a movie about going back as it is about moving forward. We learn that Verona simply won’t marry Burt because her parents can’t be there to see it. In this, and a million other small ways, we learn that the loss of her parents has so impacted Verona that she’s skirted her past, her roots, her whole self for a long time. So when they pull into the drive and see the tree covered in plastic fruit, we know she’s not just finding her future, she’s reclaiming her past too. There’s a poetry to the idea that they traveled all that way to end up right back where Verona started — if Sam Mendes wasn’t notorious for killing his characters and making everything awful it would border on saccharine, but as he seems to only have one happy ending in him, this one is all the more powerful for it.
Apropos of nothing else I was just talking about, I need to give a shout-out to the most wonderful line uttered in this picture. It’s about a stroller and it’s absurd: “I LOVE my children! Why would I want to PUSH them away from me?”
Kelsey, I know there are some other gems in this movie, give us a favorite moment or two before we go away ourselves.
K: Well, that clearly is the best line, but let’s not forget this one, delivered by a child: “Babies like to breathe, and they’re good at hiding it. I put a pillow over a baby. I thought she wasn’t breathing, but she was. She was sneaky, but I’ll try again.” And that feels like it’s the right place to end this whole she-bang.
B: Yeah, we really can’t go anywhere from murder-y kids.
Our next installment is a different kind of summer picture. Specifically a Tom Cruise summer picture.
Main image credit: Focus Features
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