So I have this weird love/hate thing with Sam Mendes. When I was, like,16 and thought I knew things I thought American Beauty was a deep and profoundly awesome movie. Instead it turns out it’s just a reasonably fun and well executed satire with some genuinely hilarious moments, not to mention a masters class in cinematography by Conrad Hall. Not too shabby. Road To Perdition was also pretty as heck too but extremely lacking in the interest-in-character department and a few other ingredients you absolutely need to make a movie effective. Jarhead was actually pretty underrated as far as black as night gulf war movies go. The lackluster reaction was mostly a product of how it was sold. The movie was more Mash than Three Kings. And I hated Revolutionary Road with a passion often reserved for zealots. So why is this all relevant?
Cause you took your stab at the “quirky indie comedy” with AWAY WE GO.
First off I hate pretty much every “quirky indie comedy” that comes out now because the vast majority are ripoffs that confuse tone with plotting and make a mockery of human interest.
And because of all of the aforemention Mendes/indie comedy-ness I went into AWAY WE GO with very low expectations. The truth is I have no idea what I’m going to get from Sam Mendes which is surprisingly weird considering he always throws some combination of satire and formalism at you. It just always comes out to different kinds of quality. And AWAY WE GO could be a brilliant movie. It really could.
I thought it would be from the magnificent start, but I have never seen a movie go on to alternate between exceptional scenes and utter garbarge so freely and divisively as I have here. Complete night and day in terms of quality scene to scene; really, it’s THAT much of a dichotomy. A Brilliant scene, then a scene so offensive to my sensibilities as a guy with a brain in my head that I wanted to storm out of the theater, then once again followed by a brilliant scene. It’s bi-polar quality.
To explain it, there’s no way to get around outright description so here’s a kind of summation.
Warning here be spoilers.
-the movie is about prospective parents visiting friends and family around the country to see where they want to live. The parents are John Krasinski (jim from the office) and SNL comedienne Maya Rudolph.
-Cold Open and beginning: Stunningly good. I thought we had a masterpiece on our hands I was so impressed. I was practically swooning at the reserved grace.
-Then we meet his parents: more of the same garbage Mendes keeps trotting out in many of his movies: Cartoonishly selfish parents who have no resemblance to real people, and if those people are indeed real, they are so exaggerated as to appear utterly insincere on screen. This would be less of a problem if the movie was straight satire, something like Stepbrothers, but Mendes just spent the first 10 minutes of the movie establishing wonderfully nuanced real characters in John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph, why take a shit on that by making them interact with spastic solipsistic jerks for parents? It’s ridiculous and more importantly undermines the emotional resonance of your film.
-John and Maya go on their own again after this visit and this becomes a running theme of interspersed moments between the various people they visit. And all of these scenes just between John and Maya’s scenes are sweet, funny, touching, and real. Great stuff. James L. Brooksish at times. That’s a high compliment.
-The first official visit (after the parents) is to Alison Janney and Jim Gaffigan who play an obscene, disparaging mother and a disassociated drunken father. Yup. We the audience members get more experiments in totally unrealistic characters who are supposedly funny but just saying juvenilely horrible things for no other reason than to try and be funny, rendering the whole thing inane. That’s what these scenes are… completely inane. Not an ounce of redeeming laughter or value to be found. The audience was stacked with people poised to like this movie and it only elicited a few chuckles. Just fucking garbage. Which sucks cause I love Gaffigan. But he’s utterly wasted. So angry!
-The 2nd visit is to Maya’s sister and it’s nice and reserved with some good touch on John’s character (being a boob man etc). Not the best the movie has to offer but it gives some nice insight.
-The 3rd visit is to Maggie Gylleennhhaallalalal and some dude and they are equally cartoony new age hippy types. Hey guess what guys? Hippies can be dumb and self involved and pretentious! Bet you didn’t know that. Once again, our two main characters enter make-believe-land where we’re supposed to think interactions like this actually happen. I almost walked out of the movie I swear. Look, this is not to say you can’t do these scenes and make the same kind of points. It’s just that the way the scenes are in the movie come across as so over to top and ludicrous you simply can’t believe they are happening in the same fucking movie. You just can’t. It gets so outrageous that you have to have John K duplicate the audiences reaction and tell the stupid hippy jerks off. And that’s never ever a good sign.
-After this, thankfully the movie starts settling down. The sequential visits (Paul Schnieder! The guy who played Ted in 6ft! The other girl from heavenly creatures!) are all much, much more palatable cause Mendes suddenly seemed to realize he took all this time to make a movie about rounded interesting main characters, so he should probably include some others as well. It really hits its stride and comes off wonderfully during the entire last half.
-It eventually all swells into this wonderful ending with John and Maya talking to one another. It’s one of those perfect movie crescendos where you can see how its finishing and you’re ready to forgive the movie for all misgivings…
… and then it went on for another couple of pretty needless scenes. Don’t you fucking hate that? A movie has a perfect ending then it just tacks on some extra bullshit. I’m not talking about the kind of stuff where people complained about No Country. That’s banal. I’m talking needless from even an intellectual or thematic standpoint. The Stuff-I-Like-Girl agreed with me and said the ending was like “a limp dick.” Perfect description.
So anyways, other good things:
-John Krasinksi: So I said your character was secretly a dick on The Office and I had this vague suspicion that you weren’t that great an actor… but damn dude. You were just incredible. Balancing this great sense of optimism, fear, and humor, you just fucking nailed it. Even better for your prospects, I never saw one second of Jim in the performance. A+
-Maya Rudolph: everyone was interested how you’d do. And you were solid. Well done.
-Alexi Murdoch: the guy who did the music. Sure you want to be Nick Drake. That’s okay cause Nick Drake is amazing. Good songs and used well throughout.
So lastly I say directly to Sam: Why the fuck did you have to make some of those visits outright satires? It destroyed the movie. Absolutely destroyed it. If you’re going to have a movie be about real people dealing with real life, you can’t include characters so singularly outrageous I should expect to see them in an Adam McKay movie. That’s not how it works. You could have had a master piece here, but those three bad choices on what direction to take in those initial visits… damn… just freaking poor form. And I could have forgiven all if you stuck the landing.
I’m going to be bitter about this one for a bit.