"History is always happening" at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
“Away We Go” announces in its first scene that it's aiming to be a different sort of romantic flick. Burt Farlander (a hirsute John Krasinski) detects with giddy glee during oral sex with his girlfriend, Verona De Tessant (Maya Rudolph), that she tastes pregnant.
The couple are framed from afar in the long shot, and afforded the privacy of a sprawling sheet, but the emotional nakedness of the dialogue (her exasperation, his enthusiasm) affords an intimacy that lasts for the next hour and a half.
Co-written by literary wunderkind Dave Eggers and his wife, the author Vendela Vida, “Away We Go” asks what two 30-somethings do when facing impending unplanned parenthood and a gnawing sense that they might just be “fuck-ups,” as Verona puts it. The new life on the way brings, well, the chance for a new life. At six months pregnant, the couple pack their suitcases and visit Phoenix, Madison, Wis., Montreal and Miami in hopes of finding a kinship with a place. When they describe their state of being “completely untethered” as a “dream scenario,” the irony doesn't strike them that they're setting out specifically to put down roots somewhere.
More so perhaps than any other movie this summer, “Away We Go” will either seduce or repel you with its leading couple. If they strike you as a too-calculated rendering of late Gen X'ers caught between a quarter-life crisis and a bun in the oven — and this would be an entirely legitimate interpretation — then you'll probably stalk out of the theater at the moment Burt defends his flaky parents by reminding Verona that her parents aren't going to help raise the child, either, and she reminds him that that's because they're dead.
If, though, you forgive its occasional tone-deafness, you'll find that “Away We Go” tells a love story that feels vitally, surprisingly true. Part travelogue, part coming-of-middle-age tale, part existential romantic farce, “Away We Go” owes much to director Sam Mendes (“American Beauty,” “Revolutionary Road”) and his light touch with characters who could (and at times do) veer into grotesquery. In Phoenix, Burt and Verona attend a dog race with such a couple — so willfully clueless and grim the laughs feel almost cheap — and in Madison they recoil from a cousin of Burt's (an aggressively airy Maggie Gyllenhaal) and her baby daddy, both New Age to the nth.
Between the parents who treat their kids like stray dogs and those who don't even kick them out of bed while screwing, Burt and Verona see the parents they won't become. Instead, Burt is determined that their daughter will have “an epic kind of childhood,” all whittling and knot-tying and canoeing. Far from the hushed caginess of his role in “The Office,” Krasinski here projects an exuberant man-boy who has loved Verona for so long his heart is fully intact. Rudolph balances him with a melancholy seemingly tapped from real grief: Verona's loss of her parents at 22 echoes the early death of Rudolph's mother, the soul singer Minnie Riperton, when Rudolph was 7 (as well as the deaths of Eggers' parents when he was in college).
That Burt and Verona's commitment never falters allows “Away We Go” to sidestep some of the more pat tropes of Hollywood romances. Whatever the outcome, the pair push ahead together, rather than against each other. The lasting aftertaste is a bittersweet one, in a good way.