Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Review: Away We Go


Version I Watched: Standard definition DVD.

Starring: John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, and Allison Janney

History: An original story written by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida and directed by Sam Mendes. The film was produced with a budget of $17 million but only wound up getting a return of just under $15 million in the end, technically calling this film a flop. However it was released on limited screens. The film received a lot of positive response from the critics mostly pertaining to John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph's performances as well as the change of pace for a Sam Mendes film, who previously did mostly films with a much more gloomy tone to them.

My Personal History: I remember when this hit a few years ago never really knowing what it was about, only knowing the critics loved it. This is my first viewing.

Review: Do you know what the difference between an indie film and an independent film is? It may seem like I'm talking about the same thing but I'm not. Indie is a term that came from the 90s and were films by nobodies for next to nothing, see El Mariachi, Slacker, or Clerks. Independent tends to still be made independently but doesn't have the same style and production value as indie. Independent tends to have a strong case of starring or directed by people who already have an established career (And this is the only prescription). Then of course there are films that may try to establish this style that indie or independent films have. This tends to be a very solemn style, quirky, depressing, totally serious, totally funny but not in an outrageous manner, very "real", pretty much any combination of those styles among other things. Taking all that into consideration a film that is either indie, independent, or shares a common theme or style with indie or independent either comes out completely and utterly depressing or in the form of a comedy-drama, or dramedy. Dramedy is a genre I have very mixed feelings about. I don't know about you but I like my genres to be consistent. If it's a comedy I want to leave laughing, action I want to feel excited, horror I want to be scare, etc etc etc. So in a dramedy I feel the tone either changes too much or at the worst times because it has an excuse to almost, or feels it is allowed. So either dramedy is a genre that is incredibly inconsistent and unrealistic or the most realistic genre that reflects real life. Real life is incredibly inconsistent. No matter who you talk to I'm sure they could share with you a moment that is shared as the most horrifying, hilarious, romantic, saddest, etc, moment in their life and it all happened over the course of maybe one conversation. Things change quick so expecting a genre to stay consistent is almost selfish of me to ask from it.

Away We Go is a prime example of a dramedy that fulfills what I was describing in my last paragraph. It's a low budget film that gives off an independent film vibe. It was released by Focus Features which is a pretty pretentious company but they did release Burn After Reading so I won't pick on them too much. First I want you to take a quick look at the poster design for this film. Does this remind you of anything? Maybe similar a design to, oh, Napoleon Dynamite? The Juno blu-ray cover art? What type of films are those? Quirky, solemn, and have a soundtrack that would make Zach Braff proud. I know it's not right to judge a book by it's cover but this one was easy to judge by it's cover. I knew exactly what I was getting into and believe it or not I was correct. Aside from the very familiar independent style of this film I did also know how it considered to be a very sweet and enduring film. I still was thinking how it would include some super serious and probably super depressing scenes like dramedies tend to do, yet I was at least anticipating a good relationship as well between the leads. And it turns out there was a lot I was right about, not that it was too hard to predict. The most notably by the average viewer would be the soundtrack. Nothing but acoustic guitars and really soft singing. At it's core nothing wrong with this soundtrack. It's just how much it's been used makes it feel pretty unoriginal. Then again what is original these days? So as a dramedy I'm anticipating a lot of drama and a lot of comedy.

The film's drama is rooted in this couple who gets pregnant. They don't have a lot of money it seems and they're trying to find just the right place for them to start their lives with their little bun in the oven. The comedy aspect is very rooted in the bizarre characters they run into along the way in their travels. These certainly aren't strangers cause it's family and friends they run into along the way. The main problem I have is with their execution of the comedy. It's not that it's not funny. I did find myself laughing quite a bit. The problem I had with it is that the comedy seems to rely solely on the awkward and weird nature of the people causing the awkward humor. Again, this isn't my problem with it. My problem with it is the perspective of the main characters is "Everyone else around us are so weird! Good thing we're not that weird." The feel of it was so full of itself and one sided it was really distracting. And the worst part of that is that the characters they run into are either so horrible or obscure that any person I've met wouldn't be able to stand or put up with a lot of the crap these characters pull. The first pair they run into are Burt's (John Krasinski) parents. At first I was really off put when their first "better than everyone else" reaction was at the dinner table. It's made clear that his parents are religious. So at the dinner table they, understandably, say grace before they eat. While they have their eyes closed and are praying we are graced with a shot of Burt and Verona (Maya Rudolph) staring at them as if they're drinking their own piss. I was really hoping they wouldn't continue with the obvious view the film has on religion and I am lucky this was the only instance. After that what happens really does frustrate the audience but still makes them laugh at the obscurity of the situation. Burt's parents have been planning on temporarily living in Belgium for many years and it's now the time they can do it. Burt and Verona find out they are planning on leaving a month before the baby is due and they'll be gone for two years. If I was Burt I would be furious at my parents. I also must say the way the parents act out the scene is pretty hilarious with their excitement at the situation. There are two other awkward experiences and one more dramatic experience involving Burt's brother that create chapters to the story all of which seem to try and top the one before it (With the exception of the last one, it's super serious).

It may be hard to say based on what I've said so far if I even enjoyed this film. I really did for what it's worth. As much as I have an issue with the way the comedy was pulled off I still found it to be very funny. This was helped by it's great performances by it's grab bag of decent to pretty good actors. The notable list of actors that appear in this film include Catherine O'Hara, Jeff Daniels, Allison Janney (or Juno's step mom as I like to call her), Jim Gaffigan, and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Everyone brought their A-game with each of them bringing something to the table that we may not normally see. One of the supporting actors that especially stands out is Jim Gaffigan. I mostly state that because I had not realized it was him while I was watching. I'm reminded of a "similar" performance by Mike Myers in Inglourious Basterds, that was mostly due to the make up yet at the same time his performance was enough to make me not realize it was him. A transformation and not realizing who is playing the role is enough to grab my attention and what I see as some of the best performances out there. Another example is damn near anything Daniel Day-Lewis has done. As for the leads I had a similar reaction to their performances. It wasn't quite a transformation yet their range and variety based on what they've done before this was notable. Between John and Maya it was Maya who stood out the most. Usually when a wild, wacky comedic performer moves over to drama it's not always the smoothest transition. The most notable work I've seen her in before this was SNL, Bridesmaids, and Idiocracy, all of which are pretty wild and silly in their style and execution. Away We Go was a far different story than any of those were. Maya was still very funny in this film just not in the same way. It was a far more down to earth funny and character she brought to the table, making her a very likable character. John on the other hand, while still did a great job, didn't quite make as much of an impact. When an actor is on a TV show for many years and suddenly they're in something totally different it's really difficult to see them as anything other than said famous character. To the twenty or so people who may not recognize him he is one of the leads in The Office. The nice thing about this performance even though it was similar execution it was at least a more mature performance overall.

I guess when it comes down to it the biggest issue I have with this film is it's writing. It really just wasn't grabbing me by the story line. I can't say I really felt like I was along on a journey with a young couple trying to find a home for their future child. As I stated in the last paragraph their performances drew me in. The writing, not so much. Just felt like it was a case of a series of events rolled together into a movie without too much of a satisfactory outcome. Outside of the awkward characters who were put there for nothing other than the laughs I thought elements of this story were very unbelievable. We're given the impression that these two are living on next to nothing a day. We're given examples how rough they have it at home where their power can blow out so easily leaving them to sleep in an icebox the rest of the night. They hardly have any money. Then why or how are they going on all these trips to all these different parts of the country? And they're not driving, they're flying. Flying isn't cheap! I cannot conceive how they are able to afford all these things when the idea of how poor they are has already been written in stone into our minds. Not only that but when they decide to meet up with Burt's brother it wasn't even in their original list of places to go. It was spontaneous. It just drives me nuts that they expect the audience to believe they can barely afford heat yet they travel all around the country, flying no doubt, with no problem at all.

Another thing I did with this film mentally was having fun by extending it's story. I remember when I first saw The Last Kiss I sorta looked at it as a spiritual sequel to Garden State. Same actor utilizing a similar but different enough performance in a story that could logically reach where it was by going through the events of Garden State first. This comparison goes along with my thoughts on not being able to get John's character from the office out of my head. I thought it would be funny if this was somewhat a spiritual sequel to The Office, but with some switching around. First our story would begin right at the end of the fourth season. The Dunder Miflin Paper Company hit hard times only to inevitably close down after losing so much business. Everyone lost their jobs. Jim and Pam's life becomes far more stressful because of this. Jim still intends on getting married to Pam but she is skeptical, not feeling comfortable starting a life off together without jobs and continuing to lose money. Sadly this causes tension between the two. They break up. Jim moves away finding a job with the insurance company he has in the film I'm reviewing. After working so hard to get together with Pam this causes him to be depressed so he doesn't date for a really long time. This causes a change in character. He still has the sense of humor he had before only now he's more exhausted from the tough times he's had in life so he has really calmed down. Eventually he meets Verona, they start dating, and cue the story for Away We Go.
Not meant to be taken seriously but a fun idea to think about.

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