Still peeved at Sam Mendes for last year's disappointing and leaden "Revolutionary Road" and the waste of its two fine leads, many film critics have gone right on being cranky at him for his latest movie. Billed somewhat vaguely as a road-trip comedy about pregnancy -- certainly a change of pace from his previous efforts -- "Away We Go" opened in theaters on June 11 and comes to Central New York this weekend, trailing sour grapes.
In order to keep you reading, let me say I liked this little film a lot. It has some disadvantages, so let's get them out of the way. The wrong poster can ruin a movie before you know what hit you. The ads for "Away We Go" feature Peter Max-style cartoons with wobbly sun rays and log cabins drawn in cramped, faux-child perspective. These seem from an earlier era and suggest the movie might be about aging hippies. Then, the soundtrack comprises lyrics and guitar-strumming by Scottish musician Alexi Murdoch of the kind usually described as "evocative" and "folky." It may be me, but increasingly I find such soundtracks grating and misguided. I think these two factors may be largely to blame for some usually better-tempered reviewers crossly calling this film "smug."
Meanwhile, as Burt and Verona, John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph are anything but wasted. Together they manage the rather underrated feat of portraying an unmarried, earnest, genuinely loving though not particularly stylish couple in their early 30s who are expecting a child and aren't sure where they fit, all the while without falling into parody, revealing themselves to be fools or revealing us to be rightfully cynical. These are roles that are deeply embarrassing when an actor falls short. But Burt and Verona are, as Roger Ebert says, nice people, and watching them figure out their next moves through a series of trials and toxic encounters provokes laughter that's unexpectedly affectionate and expansive. Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, writers who happen to be married, wrote the script while they too were expecting, which may explain a lot.