Director Sam Mendes’ Away We Go, released today May 22nd, is an unlikely “road” movie–the companions on the road are an unmarried, pregnant couple–Burt (John Drasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph)–who are looking for a place to settle down and raise their child together.
When I saw the film trailer last week, what struck me was what a sad picture of family life it offers: this young 30-something couple have no one in their lives ready to truly support them in forming their new family. And the film fulfills the trailer’s expectations: when we have no values in which to root our lives, it’s not just our geography that gets nomadic.
Refreshingly, the film is not about a couple breaking up or getting back together again. Burt and Verona’s seeming immaturity and lack of being settled down is initially quite irritating. But unexpectedly, we witness how very much in love they are–not in a ground-shaking kind of way, but in quiet togetherness and loving support that offers real potential for a lifelong intimacy. Yet, if they have that kind of relationship and truly want to build a family, why do Burt and Verona need to go in search for others’ answers to what does it take to build a family? It is on this excuse that the film’s plot is based.
For all of the contrived extremes that the film sets up as representing family life in North America today (presumably for comedy, but I did very little chuckling and didn’t burst out laughing once), only one family rang true–friends from college Tom and Munch (with understated performances by Chris Messina and Melanie Lynskey) who, despite the heart wrenching tragedy of suffering several miscarriages, have adopted several children. Sharing dinner at a pancake house, they speak most eloquently of the love and patience that really “makes” family.
Despite the film’s contrived tone and characters, there are some warm moments that offer hope. And it is charming that the character central to the drama is invisible–Burt and Verona’s soon-to-arrive daughter. Every stop on the expectant couple’s journey has something to offer to their search. Away We Go is a journey that could be a springboard for a vital discussion about what it takes to build a family.