Review: Away We Go

Away We Go

Director: Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Jarhead, Road to Perdition, Revolutionary Road)
Screenplay: Dave Eggers, Vendela Vida
Starring: John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Jeff Daniels, Allison Janney, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Catherine O’Hara
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 98 min.


Meet Burt and Verona, two lovable ‘fuck-ups’ who set across the continent in search of a new life to raise their unborn daughter. Now in their mid-thirties, the couple struggles with the outer demands of maturity while staying true to the inner autism of their affection. As a nation of two with few worldly belongings and even fewer societal ties, the couple decide to breech the borders of their safe respite and visit distant friends and family in the hopes of finding a place to belong in the world. In a Broken Flowers sort of way, they bounce from one city to the next, the recipients of parental advice that run the gamut of the freakishly absurd to the sadly poignant. Though eccentric themselves, Burt and Verona come to realize how precious their bond is when compared to the unchecked madness of the new normalcy.

Away We Go unfolds in manic tonal departures that scales the heights of comedic vulgarity, indie quirkiness, wrought sentimentality and bleak candor. It is a gloriously original mess of a film that defies easy classification. Not even Judd Apatow’s formula of raunchy-comedy-with-heart quite lives up to this tone deaf mixing of the silly and the scathing. The uncomfortable explicitness of infertility and drawn-out descriptions of borderline incestuous behavior, one-up the now typical Apatow avant-guard. Even the most challenging of commercial movies do little more than flirt with the edges of the audience’s comfort zone, but Away We Go doesn’t pull its punches, and amidst radical tonal shifts evoking laughter and tears, here the audience is left to fend for themselves.

Further complicating this anomaly of a movie is its aesthetic of indifference, which is unlike anything director Sam Mendes has attempted before. His past works tend towards a stilted monumentality of composition, that pace unevenly due to the emphasis on each frame, but in Away We Go there is virtually nothing in the film that evokes his signature, and by and large the cinematograpy felt sparse. The real aesthetic of the movie is the actors themselves, particularly the pairing of John Krasinski’s Burt with his goofy and gormless wide eye innocence and Maya Rudolph’s Verona with her perfunctory self-awareness and world-weary demeanor. Despite much of the satirical elements in the film, their relationship has a lived-in believability that few cinematic couples so successfully capture.

The one certifiable authorial imprint that I recognize in this film is co-writer, and McSweeney’s founder, Dave Eggers. Away We Go is Eggers in cinematic form, fans of his work can sound a sigh of relief that the same agitation of raw emotion and biting human insight is alive and well in this, his first venture into screenwriting. As achieved in his A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Eggers (with Vendela Vida as co-writer) bypass the now accepted tonal balance of irony-encased sincerity so as to broker a new kind of experience. This is not your Diablo Cody approach of say a bunch of clever things and insert an equally clever emotional payoff that slides effortlessly into the mix, Away We Go allows satire and sincerity to co-exist side by side as equals. The film knows you know how this is supposed to go, and it tells you it knows, and then shows you how to experience it without having to be either sarcastically sincere or sincerely sarcastic, it invites you to go through expectations to encounter something else altogether. For the academic this is post-post-modern, for the uninitiated, its a hard pill to swallow.

The Eggers’ conceit to storytelling, however, does not exempt the film of all its flaws. The satirical elements pertaining to alternative parenting styles were a bit too broad and long winded, and like Tarantino, Eggers draws attention to his own peculiar knack for dialogue that can revel in artifice for the sake of a joke, not always helping to give the characters a sense of real identity. But these remain minor nitpicks for me, as the story touches upon so many revelations about life that especially in cinema rarely if at all get uttered.

Social misfits have been depicted in film many times but rarely with such a genuine sense of dignity, that we are seeing Burt and Verona as awkward only in relation to some outer ideal, the harmony they create in their private conversations are decoded and made valuable through them intimately. Likewise, the reveals made by the Montreal friends in the movie hits a note of such raw poignancy that it touched me in a way of direct communion that Eggers has a penchant for doing. The film gives you the safe jokes about character eccentricities but then overturns them to show you something real and human about these characters. There is a tension to the storytelling, I never felt entirely comfortable watching this film, I felt in the hands of something new unsure where I was about to be taken.

More Alexander Payne than Sam Mendes, more Dave Eggers than Diablo Cody, this strange platypus of a movie forms in ways unexpected and original, and is a fitting introduction for the non-literate part of society to this young writer’s voice.

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Andrew James
Admin

Agree totally. I really loved this film. The supporting cast is outstanding, even if a bit garishly over the top. Allison Janney and Gyllenhaal in particular. Wow.

The surprise for me though was Rudolph. I really onle knew her from Idiocracy and her SNL bits (which include a bunch of "cameos" in silly films in which she is just antoher SNL type of sketch character). Fantastic how she's grown up. Her and Krasinski both have an amazing chemistry and both really bring something to the table.

Basically a road trip movie with the atypical characters with much more depth. I can see why you might think it a mess, but Mendes really seems to hold it together really well. It becomes kind of a series of adventures with a clumsy message thrown in at each one. But somehow it really works well. Safe to say this is one of my favorite pictures of the year.

Kurt Halfyard
Admin

I'm officially now looking forward to this, rather than 'dreading it'.

Kudos, Mike.

Andrew James
Admin

Were you dreading it before? Of the three movies I saw theatrically over the weekend, this was a nice way to close it out. It was really pretty great. I think I'm going down from my high on it, but walking home from the theater I was really in high spirits.

Goon
Guest

if Jay C doesnt watch this and give it a pass based on the depiction of poutine, I will be surprised.

Kurt Halfyard
Admin

"it invites you to go through expectations to encounter something else altogether."

-The HBO TV (Deadwood, The Wire, Big Love, etc. etc.) approach. I love it.

Matt Gamble
Guest

I would say anyone who loves his writings will get this movie.

Oh I like Eggers quite a bit, and I got the movie just fine. That doesn't change the fact it is a poorly constructed mess that works only on an individual scene by scene basis and not as a competent narrative. The film is a compilation tape, with only the flimsiest and most pretentious of devices holding it together.

Also, worst deus ex machina ever.

Jandy
Guest

Mike, I'm 28 and even though I'm not at the exact point in my life where Burt and Verona are, I could definitely identify with them – I don't have particular ties to any place (other than I like LA), I'm not sure what I want out of the rest of my life, and I very much felt an affinity for their disconnectedness. I think Eggers and Mendes have tapped into something very real with that, and with Verona and Burt's relationship. But I didn't feel like it was confrontational – I didn't know where they were going next, but I didn't feel the tension you felt, either.

If anything, it was emotionally healthful, because they went through everything they were faced with, their relationship stayed strong (in fact, grew stronger), and they ended up at a satisfying place – not necessarily a place where everything was resolved and they wouldn't have any more trouble, but at a place where you knew they could deal with whatever life would throw at them in the future. I enjoyed the film a lot, but it's unlikely to be a touchstone in my life, the way it sounds like it may be for you.

I think Andrew touched on the thing that made me rate it a little lower than you (and him, apparently) – the clumsiness of the messages that get thrown out every where they stop. Oh, you don't want to be parents like these people, or like these people, or God forbid like those people. You want to be parents like these people, but oh isn't life unfair sometimes when it comes to who gets to be parents. I found all of that overdone and cliched. The film was best in the scenes just between Burt and Verona, whether they were being serious and soul-searching, or goofy, or both at the same time.

Not that the supporting cast wasn't great – they were, especially Maggie Gyllenhaal. But their purpose in the film was one-note. The only exception was the Montreal couple, and I thought that entire section was fantastic.

Karen
Guest

Excellent film! I'm probably gonna watch it again then buy it on DVD.

Jandy
Guest

Sort off topic, near the beginning there’s a shot of their airplane taking off via a reflection in multi-paned window.

I loved that, too, Andrew! Definitely a screencappable moment. Animated .gif, anyone?

And Mike, I'm sure people like Janney's and Gyllenhaal's character exist. But the fact that they know like ONE family in each city and the ONE family is insane (or broken) is a little unbelievable. It works within the film, as Andrew points out. But it keeps it feeling like a film to me, not anything more than that.

Philosophy
Guest

Sam Mendes is one of my favorite directors. I am totally looking forward to seeing this film now after reading this review. Thanks for the great post.

rot
Guest

I agree, if the parents were not so off their rockers, it would have helped. But otherwise, you have the whole spectrum with the rest, Montreal and Miami are relatively normal visits, offset by Phoenix and Tucson.

Jandy Hardesty
Admin

Relatively normal, yes, in terms of not having crazy-ass parents. But they still commented on parenthood. Even when they met Verona's sister, it still acted as a comment on parenthood, via calling up Verona's parents. Also, let's not forget that Burt's parents (I just wrote "Jim" first – I watch The Office too much) are in there, too. It wasn't ONLY that some of the parents were crazy that bothered me (though that's part of it), but also that every major episode centered on parenthood, as if being future parents was the only identity they had. Now, I understand that the theme makes it a more coherent film narratively-speaking, and it may be good that they didn't try to do too much at once, but it highlighted the constructed nature of it for me – which, not necessarily bad, but struck me as a little heavy-handed in this case. The fact that Burt and Verona stood out as real people rather than as ciphers is admirable, and I think more due to Krasinski and Rudolph than anyone else.

But clearly this bothered me more than it bothered you, and that's fine – kinda like Miller's Crossing's incomprehensibility bothered you more than it bothered me. 🙂

rot
Guest

I don't see how parenthood coming up every time is remotely unusual… ask any couple having a child who is visiting friends and family abroad, do you honestly think the issue of parenting wouldn't come up? I mean clearly it is the theme of the story but its also the story too… they are trying to raise a family somewhere that is surrounded by caring people, I don't find it strange that thritysomethings and older would have kids and would have a lot to say about raising kids. I don't have kids but I hear a shitload about what you need to do to become a parent. Not that this film has to be realistic, its not, its tonally everywhere, but the one thing I didn't find obtrusive was the fact that everyone is talking about parents and parenting, again maybe I have this unusual life, but hang around some new parents and you tell me what conversations come up. It makes sense, for the first couple years all you are doing is raising this kid, it consumes your life, so I am told.

I would say Burt and Verona being real people had a lot to do with the writing, even though the actors do bring a lot to the table. The way they interact, the dialogue, is frighteningly accurate, even when its going for the joke, I know that behavior.

rot
Guest

Actually I would find it suspect if friends and family abroad encountered a six month pregnant Verona and there was no talk at all about raising a child. I can see your point, Jandy, if they were encountering the people they see everyday, but these are people they don't see that often. That said, the one she does seem to keep in contact with, her sister, you will notice is the one that talks the least about parenting advice.

and actually Burt's parents don't have much to say at all about parenting, they are self-obsessed, so thats another case of those closer to you talk less about it.

Jandy
Guest

No, I don't mean that parenting comes up in conversation. That is normal. I mean that the story is constructed so that they encounter:

1) a set of parents/grandparents who seem interested but are really selfish

2) a set of parents who don't care about their kids

3) a woman who reminds Verona of her own parents

4) a set of parents who care in the wrong way about their kids

5) a set of parents who have a great family but can't have their own kids

6) a set of parents who have split and the one left worries about how to care for his kid

7) themselves, who are supposed to take everything from each of the previous six to become the parents THEY should be

Each encounter is set up as a learning experience – they encounter Selfish Parents, Bad Parents, memories of Good Parents, Weird Parents, Good but Unlucky Parents, and Single Parents. It's not strange that people would discuss Verona's pregnancy and offer parenting advice. It's not an issue I have with the script/dialogue, but with the narrative structure.

rot
Guest

Fair enough, I see it along the same lines as Broken Flowers, each visit shows something different to the character about his own life choices, and in the end he has an opportunity to apply what he has learned.

This is why I say the film is messy because it gives mixed signals about what its intentions are. It is easy to criticize this film on the basis of its narrative structure to say it is breaking with the realism that elements of the story clearly indicate to be the case. But its not entirely anything, it oscillates a variety of different tones, it is trying to overcome that imposed limitation. The tonal imbalance is entirely intentional, the most basic script doctor would look at Montreal and Madison segments and say they do not belong in the same movie. The movie tries to bypass all of these mandates of good storytelling and tells it in a rigmarole way, all ferreting out semblances of truth irrespective of tone. The actual narrative construct need not be true, it can be artifice, but what we are shown about people in the film may still possess some reality.

Or, to be concise, it doesn't care about its craft, it just wants to express something honest and hopes you won't be bogged down by the craft either. I value a film by what it has to say, first, its craftsmanship, second, and I think there is a growing movement of both cinephiles and industry folk who worry about craftsmanship foremost… in fact I would say Sam Mendes is a good example of this (cough, Road to Perdition, cough), and why it is so shocking how different he made this film. It makes sense, and maybe he was responding to the criticisms of his other films about their stilted stagy qualities that he wanted to take on this product for its liberation of that conceit, to make something indifferent to style in a large part.

@Philosophy, would be interested to hear what you think of the film, considering what I see to be a strong divergence in the visual approach Mendes takes here.

rot
Guest

This quote from A Heartbreaking Work gets at what I think of as the Eggers Mission Statement:

“what am i giving you? i am giving you nothing. i am giving you things that god knows, everyone knows. they are famous in their deaths. this will be a memorial to them… i tell you and it evaporates. i don’t care – how could i care? i tell you how many people i have slept with (thirty-two), or how my parents left this world, and what have i really given you? nothing. i can tell you the names of my friends, their phone numbers, but what do you have? you have nothing… i give you virtually everything i have. i give you all of the best things i have, and while these things are things that i like, memories that i treasure, good or bad, like the pictures of my family on my walls, i can show them to you without diminishing them. i can afford to give you everything… we feel that to reveal embarassing or private things, like, say, masturbatory habits (for me, about once a day, usually in the shower), we have given someone something, that, like a primitive person fearing that a photograph will steal his soul, we identify our secrets, our past and their blotches, with our identity, that revealing our habits or losses or deeds somehow makes one less of oneself. but it is just the opposite, more is more is more – more bleeding, more giving.”

Embedded in that idea is that superficial concerns of decorum and tone and structure are impediments to saying what needs to be said, and while its fine to play in that sandbox, ultimately what matters is saying something true. The rules of Dave Eggers story is that there are no rules, the old rules no longer apply. Measure it by how much it agitates you, not by how it compares to commonly held notions of good craftsmanship.

Kurt Halfyard
Admin

@Rot "…I don’t have kids but I hear a shitload about what you need to do to become a parent."

Insert into hole, preferably moist, thrust, repeat.

Ok, kidding aside (pun intended), this is a conversation i get into a lot with my 30-something friends. A Lot. also child rearing and enviornment for children is 1000x more of a hot-button subject in my part of the world than Religion or Politics. I swear, friendships have been strained, and a few nearly ended from these conversations….people take that shit personally, and do indeed passionately talk about it.

This is actually one of the key things I look forward to in Away We Go.

Finally, Rot's comment "The actual narrative construct need not be true, it can be artifice, but what we are shown about people in the film may still possess some reality." —-AMEN TO THAT BROTHER! I totally agree with this. It can be a hard issue to get by sometimes though (something I've struggled with in certain films….)

rot
Guest

Its not a spoiler because it is in the trailer, but I know someone who said exactly what Maggie's character says about strollers in the film. I also know a couple who had the argument about not getting into arguments, and even little things, the 'fake smile' Burt does in the film was I thought a signature look of mine… the film is made up of all these things I recognize from life that maybe barely get articulated to myself but when put on a screen I suddenly see it clearly.

Strange that while I hear a lot of parents drone on about their experiences as parents I don't see a lot of films espousing the same, or if they do, more for comedy than anything… Knocked Up (which I haven't seen)… how many films really talk about parenting with something nearing earnestness? Parenthood is all that comes to mind. So in this way too, Away We Go feels strangely new.

Andrew James
Admin

Filmspotting absolutely savaged this movie. And while I totally see where they are coming from, all of things they rip on it for are exactly the things I liked about it. What it really comes down to is, despite the plot contrivances, the actors sell the roles and the story to me and I buy it completely. Hook. Line. And sinker.

Goon
Guest

Filmspotting are awful with anything remotely comedic.

rot
Guest

or having to do with acting and without hearing it I would put money on the fact that Matty roasts Rudolph's performance, because she doesn't hit those book-learned polishes he knows so much about.

I don't think she is Academy material in this film, I can see the argument for her lack of polish to the acting in the film, but does it detract in any way from the experience of Verona as a fully embodied character, absolutely not, in fact it kind of strengthens it because she is so insecure.

Goon
Guest

I listened to their talk on it on my mp3 player during a walk this morning, ran out of podcasts for my walk. My problem with Matt is his acting background has clearly given him some chip on his shoulder and it affects his commentary.

All you need to know is Matt generally liked it until the last half hour or so which he thought was pretentious and unearned, and they had some talk where Matt pretty much trashes Mendes as a director overall and says its been diminishing returns since his first film which he has reservations about anyways..

they feel the same way about Wes Anderson. Again, don't know shit about comedy. I miss the old guy, he could also be very very wrong about any comedies, but he wasnt a fraction as smug as Matt is.

Goon
Guest

I dont remember them attacking the leads, just saying they were doing their usual schtick and were more or less relegated to the background while the supporting players led each vignette.

rot
Guest

there's that word again, unearned. how is something unearned, well because it doesn't fit into a preconception of good storytelling, that ALL stories must plant story points throughout the film so that the audience has an idea what to expect in the end and we can relish in the satisfying technique. Where is it written that a character has to earn anything? Is it possible to have a movie where they go point to point with little to no conflict, but in the depiction of their lives we get a sense of the truth of their character anyways? Are we as people always earning our payoffs?

What happens when someone fashions a story indifferent to established technique? Are they valued on their own terms or as anomalies to be ridiculed?

rot
Guest

Matty if you are still out there, I welcome debate to my last comment… how does Away We Go not earn its ending?

Goon
Guest

to me if someone says something is 'unearned' it could mean a couple things. It could mean that it doesn't fit in with the story leading up to it, but it could also mean that while it did seem to be leading up to a climax, that it was not done well enough along the way to illicit a proper response.

Like to me, the Slumdog romantic payoff was something I could call 'unearned'. It was obvious it was going to go there, but since you don't spend enough time with them together and she isn't developed so great, it didnt give me the lovey dovey feel good moment they probably wanted from me.

But dont let me speak for Matt, why dont you just take 5 minutes to listen to him yourself so you can be mad for 15.

rot
Guest

Slumdog is a good example, that film IS trying to be formulaic, hell its borrowing heavily from Bollywood, that is as formulaic as they come. The intent of the film is to have this structure and in that case it is valid to challenge how earned some element is.

My issue is when this criticism is brought towards ALL films, including films that show no regard for being classically structured. Its disparaging a film for being something it has no intention of being.

Would you use the same ironclad limitations to any other art form? Do all paintings have to be representational, does all music have to tell a story, and use verse, chorus, verse, does every building have to adhere to classical dimensions, does every book, play, poem have to fit with a pre-existing template for ALL cases?

no.

Why film? Why are we SOOOOOO obsessed with the following, irrespective of context:

1) naturalism, at least one person will bring up the unbelievability factor of a scenario

2) earning plot and character payoffs through storytelling structure

3) performances as prowess of acting skills, and not also, accidentally or not the innate qualities of the actors outside of their efforts. Not to mention there are different acting styles to choose from, and no one holds universal superiority.

5) coherency, that there should be three acts with a crisis in the middle to be resolved.

I am not saying these things don't matter, but they don't ALWAYS matter, and Away We Go is a case where none of these matter, it never shows any lasting interest in living up to any outside standard. Its its own beast.

Jandy
Guest

See, I'm not sure I agree with you there, Mike.

You know my tastes well enough to know that I do agree with you that not every film has to fit with a pre-existing template. Inland Empire, The New World, etc. – films that throw all templates out the window are we both agree are incredible.

But on admittedly only one viewing, I'm hesitant to put Away We Go in with those rules-be-damned films. Maybe I'll change my mind on a rewatch, but I didn't feel like it threw out the template and thus needed to be judged by its own standard (though, to some degree, all films should be judged by their own standards, no?). I felt like it had a very rigid structure (as laid out in my comment up there somewhere), and that constant hammering on the theme THROUGH THE STRUCTURE made it less interesting than it could've been.

Or not even that, really. I though it was plenty competent, more than competent even. I quite liked it, and I wouldn't say there was anything BAD about it. And I wouldn't even say it didn't work for me. It just didn't have the extra punch that made me go wow. That made me sit through the credits and stare at the blank screen until the ushers shooed me out. That made me want to drive around for hours before re-entering actual life. In short, it was good. It wasn't great – it didn't pop. I'm just pointing at the structure because for me, that's what made it not pop.

Goon
Guest

just because i'm in a good mood, i want to make it clear to you rot that for all the disagreements and opposite opinions, despite some occasional frustrations I'm very glad to have the contrary opinions out there voiced with the effort you put into them. Its much better than an echo chamber.

Goon
Guest

Looks like you're going to have to take aims at Sean at filmjunk rot, who gave it 1.5/4 and also said the ending wasn't deserved.

rot
Guest

@Jandy

As I said originally far earlier in the thread it shouldn't have to be either/or, that you are either clearly formulaic in your structure and tone and behavior as a film or you are like Godard and overtly trying to overturn these conventions… I made the association with being Goths, all dressing a like and becoming their own kind of formulaic subset. I think the conventional wisdom is the either/or scenario, and that someone like Matty or Gamble would see INLAND EMPIRE and respect that it is very obviously not playing by the rules and wouldn't request of it a classical structure.

In this case you have modern and post-modern as your choices, but there is also what Eggers in his writing has aspired towards, this post-post-modern spirit, McSweeneys is all about literature that normally doesn't get published, thats odd and niche and its own beast. Away We Go is part of that lineage, and I call it an aesthetic of indifference, in that it is neither trying to live up to the formulaic nor overturn it, but go its own direction, each scene motivated by something integral to itself, to some insight large or small it wants to express because of the moment.

The one thing I would give Gamble respect for observing is the vignette nature of the film, it is very much that. There is a thread of these characters throughout but its more like Four Rooms than it is Juno, its more about individual scenarios bringing out moments of clarity about human behavior. There is very little "change" to the character from beginning to end, nor is there very little crisis… thats not accidental, thats not a flaw in the script, thats because it had no interest in having them break up and get back together.

The final scene is built upon a revelation the scene before that had no connection to anything learned along the way. Traditionally it would, you would require a direct lineage in the storytelling, hence it being 'earned'. But Away We Go, as the title would suggest, is propelling forward moment by moment, it has very little interest in looking backwards, its always the next place to go, and the talk about the tree was just the link to the next place to go. I admit they make the final scene monumental like a 'aha' moment, but it more like you have taken this labyrinthine path to get to a final location and this is the end, this is the logical end for the search for home. People can grumble that it doesn't use effectively all that came before it, but again, why should it, the only reason you would want that is because you desire a classical structure.

You say it has a rigid structure, its structure is go here, get advice, go here, get advice, go here, get advice, learn something unattached to any of that advice and find your own way. thats not a classical structure, thats not modern or winking post-modern, thats the third way, and Eggers does that every time in his writing… Gamble seemed to get upset with me with the notion that to understand the film it would be good to know where Eggers is coming from, and I mean that, this is the same indifference for structure that A HeartBreaking Work possessed.

@Goon

I just wish people would spend less time focusing on how I say things, on critiquing my approach and address the meat of what I say… I do the same with everybody else… Henrik calls me a moron and makes a point, I concentrate on the point… there is no progression otherwise. If Gamble really had a problem with my opinions he should address them directly, not critique the tone I use.

And as for Sean, like I said originally I fully expect most people to dislike this movie, and was surprised when the early signs with Andrew and people I went with were positive too. I have made my case for how it need not be 'deserved' so its up to other people to refute me with evidence in the film.

Jandy Hardesty
Admin

Mike, I feel like you're arguing against something I haven't said, or didn't mean if you think I did say it. I'm not positing an either/or, or saying that because I see a structure in Away We Go that it has to live up to it. I'm saying that I see a structure in Away We Go that I wish was less pronounced. I guess you're interpreting that as I wish it were more intentionally convention-overturning, like Godard, but that's not really what I mean either. I merely mean that I felt anvilled by the structure, regardless of whether the structure is a classical one or modern one or a post-modern one or a post-post-modern one. I admit to using those distinctions in my own writing and thinking just because I think they're a useful starting point, but I don't ultimately care whether something fits into one or other or not. I just don't like being told things in such an obvious manner. That's one thing I did like about the ending, that it threw out almost everything except the one little mention of Verona's parents from her sister way back when. It worked emotionally, and it worked narratively, too, because the idea of returning there had been planted, but hadn't been over-emphasized. In short, I felt the ending was deserved not because everything in the narrative led up to it, but because everything in the characters led up to it. Which I think you'd agree with.

I haven't read anything by Eggers, so I can't come at the film the same way you can. You can argue that it means I can't fully understand the film, and that's fine. But your argument that I'm being negative toward the film because it doesn't match up to a preconceived notion of what a film should be is inaccurate (or maybe you're not saying that about me, but about others). First off, I'm not really being negative. I'm pointing out one thing that didn't work for me. But anyway, I don't approach film that way. I watched a film, I enjoyed it but it didn't pop for me, and I thought about why. And the reason I came up with was the plot device/structure felt heavy-handed. I liked pretty much EVERYTHING ELSE about the film (except the shrillness of Janney's character, but it's not like I was supposed to like her – that discomfort was intentional, and I accept it as such). But my criticism started with my experience of the film and an attempt to explain why it made me feel the way it did. Not from a pre-conceived set of rules that the film may or may not have lived up to. I can see how my previous comment implied that, though, and I'll concede your point of trying to find something other than either/or – I agree with that, so my invocation of Lynch perhaps wasn't particularly useful. I do find the "rules", for lack of a better term, useful in finding ways to articulate my criticisms, but they aren't necessarily the basis of them.

It's interesting, too, how much you think everyone else would hate the movie. I think it's making you a little defensive about it. I liked it. I just don't think it's a masterpiece. And I don't think it's as challenging or off-putting as you seem to want it to be. Yet I think we actually mostly agree – I just popped over to read the Filmjunk review, and I'd stand right by you to defend the film over that. Completely missed the point. Basically, I'm nitpicking on a relatively minor thing that kept me from loving the film as much as you did. That's it.

rot
Guest

thats fine, I just thought your implication about you liking INLAND EMPIRE being justification for you accepting all non-traditional modes of narration needed me to reemphasize my point that I think the film operates somewhere in the ambiguous middle, but if you get what I am saying, cool.

Ultimately I think if you don't like or love these characters then no payoff would work, and people can rage against them as being too quirky, too caricature, too contrived, and thats fine… its a film that lives or dies by its characters.

But then you seem to like these characters but don't like where they are taken because it is heavy-handed, ok, I disagree about it being heavy-handed, but ok. To me it was characters who were entirely in a logical situation to talk about parental advice and ultimately none of the advice was entirely heeded, it just existed. I didn't feel like the movie was perpetuating a message to me, what would that message be, find your OWN home? Again I compare this to Broken Flowers which perhaps you haven't seen, but there too a character goes from house to house to experience different worldviews, was that heavy-handed too? Honest question, not argumentative.

I would concede the weakest part of the film is LN in Madison, but more so for me because it is long drawn out for a punchline and it could have been shorter, but was that heavy-handed? That was clearly satire, and admittedly it says to our heroes whatever you do don't become these kinds of parents, so I guess it could be considered heavy-handed because it was so starkly contrasted. I just don't read it that way, as Eggers trying to teach us or the characters anything, so much as trying to be funny and perhaps exact a kind of worldview he has experienced as one of many… if there is a message it is be yourself, and I think thats a pretty valuable message to have. As a whole that message is rendered not be all sharply contrasted satirical caricatures that make them by default obviously right, rather you get the spectrum of kinds of sensibilities that changed tonally as much as content. While vignettes, they ultimately create a wider world in context of one another that is not all crazy, not all quirky, not all didactic, they merely exist, and so do our heroes, and in the end they do something of their own without consulting anyone else. I find that quite beautiful actually, and really, the opposite of heavy-handed, its variegated.

But I guess we differ.

rot
Guest

oh wait better analogy…

If I remember right you love Waking Life, and many detractors of that film make the same complaint that you are doing Away We Go, and in both cases I see it as misjudging the context somewhat. The guys at slashfilm laid into Waking Life for being didactic and like a series of lectures. What they failed to appreciate, and what the hero states midway through the film, is that the first half is SUPPOSED to be overly didactic and cumbersome, both because that is how the hero interpreted it but also because it lulls the audience into this quasi-revelry, where you cease to think on the level of intellect because the information is coming fast and furious. One could argue Waking Life is heavy-handed because it is trying to tell you all these philosophical opinions without subtlety, but that would be not acknowledging the context of them being said.

and so I believe, with Away We Go, taken as a whole, each bit of parental advice that is given in the film conveys a microcosm of the world around these characters, that they ultimately reject. None of them are directly didactic so much as descriptive of a kind of plethora of worldviews that these characters can inhabit. The same as Wiley Wiggins walks from one worldview to the next in Waking Life, Burt and Verona walk from one worldview to the next in Away We Go… neither should offend your sense of decorum if taken within context of their purpose in the story.

Again like I said, I could see the argument if all the characters were designed to be sharp contrasts of BAD parenting but they aren't, Miami and Madison and Tucson are all decent people, they counter balance any of the larger than life worldviews portrayed. If anything Miami complicates the whole idea of what parenting is, because a good parent is left without options to succeed. I think you don't like that because that character seems to only exist to convey this message, but then my original defense is legitimate because why then need a story be naturalistic, unburdened by contrivance or artifice? This film never claims to be adhering to any one formula, why should that be a fault of it?

If it is just you don't like it because you don't like it, I'm cool with that, but the film is not at fault then ultimately, its not a demonstrable fault, which is all I am interested in for the sake of debate.

Jandy Hardesty
Admin

I didn't care for Broken Flowers too much. I don't remember enough about it to talk about it, though, or compare it with Away We Go. I didn't much care for Murray's character, though, so that could have been the difference – as you say, how you react to the characters is immensely important in this case.

The message as transmitted to me was don't worry so much about whether you live up to whatever these other people think your life and your family should look like. And don't depend on them to tell you what's best for you – you can take their advice and example in and use it if it helps you, but only you (together with your partner and eventually family) can define where your lives should go next. It's not a bad message, but it's not a particularly original or enlightening one, either. The strongest parts of the film were those that showed Burt and Verona working together toward that definition, and the fact that the end was only an "ah ha" moment to the extent that they accepted both the freedom and responsibility to continue seeking it, not that they had actually found it (it's not the sort of thing you ever find 100%).

Yes, each vignette is satirical, and have various degrees of quirkiness and craziness. Again, it was that each vignette was so specifically set up to show a different side of parenthood that felt heavy-handed, not each vignette in and of itself. The overarching structure was heavy-handed, not necessarily the writing in any given section. You're coming at this from much more of a content perspective, while I'm coming at it from more of a form perspective. I realize that in your eyes, that's going to push me back over into the academic viewpoint you dislike, but so be it.

It's been a while since I've seen Waking Life, which I do love (but as much for the innovative animation and visual interest as for the story), but I don't recall being pushed into accepting or rejecting any of the opinions, or indeed, coming to any conclusion about them at all. They were just there, and it all felt more like an ambiguous dream than anything else, you could take them or leave them without much consideration. You can't take or leave the opinions in Away We Go, you have to either accept or reject them (or accept them with modifications) as useful models for Burt and Verona. I could be wrong on that with regards to Waking Life, since I don't remember that much about the story – it's the visuals that stuck with me.

And if you want to leave it as I didn't like it because I didn't like it, that's fine. I'm just saying that I didn't like it because the plot structure felt heavy-handed. Not because it offended my "sense of decorum" or it failed to "adhere to any one formula." But because I'm trying to explain the reason I had a different (and slightly less positive) experience of the film than you did. And that's the best explanation I can come up with. You're defending your experience of the film, and that's great, please do. That's all I'm doing, as well.

rot
Guest

I can see what your saying, I just don't see the structure being didactic but descriptive. Allison Janney's character is descriptive of a kind of behavior, I didn't get a 'don't be like this person' vibe hitting me over the head, but more look how many kinds of people and worldviews exist. That nothing is acted upon by these worldviews to me substantiates my claim that its not deliberately didactic, its not telling you the audience how to raise a child, other than to say find your own way. as a message that to me is the least heavy-handed.

"Burt and Verona working together toward that definition, and the fact that the end was only an “ah ha” moment to the extent that they accepted both the freedom and responsibility to continue seeking it, not that they had actually found it (it’s not the sort of thing you ever find 100%)."

Exactly, and that is why I take issue with the criticisms of the ending that I am hearing, the unearned argument. Admittedly it draws attention to itself because it has this pop song playing over it and it play into the cliches of indie films, and I can see being irked by that, but what is happening, the 'a ha', is perfect for what this story needed to express.

As for 'find your own way' being not that deep, I would challenge that, particularly within the conservative realm of parenting, I mean the world seems out to make conformist of everyone, there is a saturated sense of what is right and how to live, and this was the same theme of Revolutionary Road. The Wheelers sought to find their own way but gave into this conformist pressure. I see a lot of people giving into the conformist pressure, and any time a film can say find your own way and not be cute about it, not wink at you why saying it, I think its pretty honorable. Burt and Verona feel like a real couple to me, their banter is not unlike what goes on between me and my wife, its quirky only in contrast to this polished ideal of public expression.

Like I said before, I think very little in the film is satirical, its just where you are coming from it may seem that way. for example, I was sitting in a restaurant and the woman next to me said very loudly "I was watching a very intense sex scene in True Blood and getting turned on and Frank came in the room and farted in my face, and I said aw gross, and he laughed and walked out". I put that in a film and its satire. This shit happens all the time, people are far more satirical in nature then we let on in our edited prose.

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