Friday, August 21, 2009

Away We Go is not that bad

I saw Away We Go the other night. A loose road movie about two people visiting friends in different parts of the country in an attempt to find a place to raise their child. The cultural buzz around it has been that it is a smug movie about hipsters and that it stinks. (See N+1, slate, NYT). All three reviews use the word "smug." I began the movie primed to see this (not least because I found "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" to be a self-involved book about very little, which was a pretty good summary of San Francisco at the turn of the millennium.). But ultimately think is not so I think this is unfair and overly simple.

The charges of smugness are largely based on the fact that John Krasinsky (The Office) and Maya Rudolph (SNL, Idiocracy) are perceived by critics to be deified and totally unmocked, whereas everyone they visit is shown to be a terrible person. This is a false dichotomy Burt is ridiculous and incompetent, but sweet. this is obvious. His visions of a "Huck Finn childhood" for the child show him to be as delusional as any other character. If you shaved off Krasinsky's beard and gave him different glasses, the charges of hipsterism would likely evaporate. If this is the case, as I believe it is, the charges of hipsterism are pretty flimsy.

As for the caricatures of the friends they visit, there are two important things that the reviewers miss. the first is the the caricatures are meant to show the way guest perceive their hosts (and vice versa) rather than how those people actually are. the scenes are funny insights into how pregnant every misspeak is in our extrapolating minds. They are also not the one-side snipefests that the critics declare. Krasinsky is clearly rude to his hosts in Madison, when he could easily have endured the dinner graciously. he is at fault socially, even if the scene is played for comedy.

The second is that the miscarrying Montreal family and the protagonists (mistaken by critics for blameless) are also ridiculous. the Montreal and their adopted brood are self-involved and affected too. and when rudolph gushes "I want that family," it shows clearly that she is not immune to the myth-making and self-delusion that all the characters, even the grotesques, share.

There are parts of the movie that miss. Rudolph's monologue about the plastic fruit tree is stilted and obviously misses the intended speech pattern of the writer, and there are a few bits of self-conscious quirk (e.g., the itinerary stapled to the jacket lining) that I could have lived without.

As for charges that the characters believe themselves to be uniquely special in a world of ogres, who does not believe this deep down? This is the charge against baby boomers. It is the charge against "navel gazing" Gen Xers. It is now the charge against highly-mediated Gen Y. This looks like an inherent trait to me. Perhaps the critics doth protest too much.


Ellen said...

I thought the movie did pretty well in not rushing to Burt and Verona's defense, except for the beginning and the end -- also the parts of the movie I liked least. Like you said, their faults are readily apparent throughout. That plastic fruit scene is so false, I felt the script reaching for an emotional peak that it didn't earn at all.

I thought the Montreal chapter was the most moving of all of them, though. The scene with Melanie Lynskey in the bar sounds ridiculous but it worked for me.

8yearoldsdude said...

althoguh A.S. Hamrah of N+1 would screamingly beg to differ with us, I actually found the strip club/bar scene speech effective as well. Maybe she didn't need to be on the pole, but the speech between the men was moving.

When discussing the imperfection of the Montrealers, I was referring to the family funhouse scene. That family did not seem to be clearly painted as superior, and Verona's embrace of them allowed the movie to show that all characters have cultural preferences and biases.

Ellen said...

In the family funhouse I think we see what Verona sees, and at first glance the family does seem culturally sensitive and welcoming and friendly. Verona falls for them because their flaws aren't as immediately apparent as in the other households; it breaks the pattern, even if it does so in a way that a million movies use.

The importance of the music in the bar scene can't be understated; for me it put the rest of the Alexi Murdoch soundtrack to shame.

Wade Garrett said...

Is Away We Go still up in the theaters? I meant to see it when it came out, but never got around to it. One friend of mine told me that John Krasinsky's character would "make me go gay," so I'm curious to see it for that reason alone. It must be some performance.

I wonder if this is the sort of movie that it would be better to see outside of Brooklyn. Seeing it surrounded by its target demographic would probably color my viewing on the movie in a certain way. But then maybe every city has enough of those people to fill a theater.

Ellen said...

If John Krasinski's character in this movie can make you gay... well.

I like Krasinski in my dual capacities as media consumer and straight girl, and his performance in this movie was exactly what I expected. It didn't make me like him any more or less. The big surprise for me was Maya Rudolph; she was far more interesting to watch, maybe because the last time I saw her onscreen was in "Idiocracy" and that didn't require her to have any range.