Friday, May 22, 2009

away we go: what other critics had to say

I already linked to my own review of Away We Go, the forthcoming Sam Mendes film. Let's take a look at what the other trades had to say -- and what I thought of what they thought.

Dennis Harvey of Variety:

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.

I think Dennis is right about the caricaturing that goes on in some of the supporting roles. It's worse early on in the film, which doesn't make the road trip look all that promising for the viewer. But I do think Away We Go eventually eases up on the freak-show exhibits and starts getting into some honest emotions.

And while I agree about Janney, I thought Gyllenhaal was dead-on as the smug, more-enlightened-than-thou New Wave hippie. I've met these people, and she got it exactly right.

Michael Rechtshaffen of The Hollywood Reporter:

Obviously each destination offers a snapshot of the various challenges inherent in carving out the family unit one would like to create as opposed to the family into which one was born. But though it's nice to see Mendes take a looser, not quite so studied approach to his filmmaking, some stops along the way -- like a detour to visit Burt's suddenly single brother (Paul Schneider) -- feel dramatically off-course.

Production values have a nice, grassroots texture, including Ellen Kuras' cinematography and John Dunn's costume design, though musically the film could have packed a bit lighter where the extensive and occasionally intrusive acoustic song selection is concerned.

Michael's review hits on something important -- that while Away We Go represents a stylistic shift for Mendes, it's not that different from some of his other films when it comes to its study of domestic stability. I would say, however, that the couple's scenes with Schneider were some of my favorites, even if I didn't quite love the resolution to that sequence.

And I agree about Alexi Murdoch's score -- must every American mini-major independent film now come equipped with earnest acoustic-guitar doodlings?