A review of “Away We Go” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ****

Rating: R for language, sexuality and mature themes

Run Time: 1 hour, 36 minutes

 

 

Quirky sentiments ebb and flow in Sam Mendes’ latest – and greatest – study of the human condition.

Burt Farlander and Verona De Tessant (John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph) are hurtling towards one of life’s great adventures: parenthood. They’ve moved close to Burt’s folks with high hopes of close family ties and free childcare. But the senior Farlanders (Catherine O’Hara and Jeff Daniels) have their own agenda – packing up hearth and home and taking their show on the road to Antwerp. Clunk.

Burt and Verona need roots and they need them fast. Thus they set out on a seminal road trip to find the perfect home for their unborn child.

Think “Flirting with Disaster” for the mommy set. Their grand plan begins with a stay in Phoenix where Verona’s former desk buddy Lily (Allison Janney) lives in fractured conjugal bliss with laid-back hubby and a pair of fiendish teens. Nobody’s idea of domestic heaven – strike Phoenix.

On it goes with stops in Madison, Montreal and Miami. In Wisconsin the pair hope to re-bond with Burt’s childhood friend LN (Maggie Gyllenhaal), an alternative new-ager who raises her kids by The Continuam and its three cardinal S’s -  no sugar, no strollers and no separation. Scratch that.

In Montreal old college friends have adopted a Brangelina-style brood; in Miami Burt’s instinct that his brother may be the family rock come crashing down in a vortex of hurt and suffering.

Mendes’ genius is in eliciting pitch perfect performances from every member of an A-list cast whose dark humor is tinted with desperation and sorrow. Each stands out in his or her own right; O’Hara and Daniels playing off their wicked empty-nesting glee, Janney rocking the hilarious mom from hell and Gyllenhaal chewing up the scenery as an ethereal yet potentially psychotic Earth Mother.

Melanie Lynskey delivers a profoundly painful turn as a desperately barren thirty-something and Paul Schneider offers equally deft shades of grey to his abandoned husband and father.

The true revelation is funny-woman Rudolph, best known for her ingenious efforts on Saturday Night Live. With great depth of feeling she exudes the joy and confusion of impending motherhood, drawing on rich reserves of family history to shape her fierce desire for a happy home.

All is packaged with a fresh indie feel that’s more Coen Brothers than classic Mendes (“American Beauty”, “Revolutionary Road”) and the perfect tonic for another action-saturated summer.