Alright. So I caught two movies this past weekend, Transformers 2 and Away We Go. Tonally, these could not have been more diverse experiences. I mean, The Seventh Seal would have been a more appropriate followup to Transformers’ grim bombast than the twee, indie-rock experience of Away We Go. The first movie isn’t even worth commenting on; it’s two-and-a-half hours of explosions and fighting. It was fun, but if I never, ever see it again, that’ll be perfectly fine with me. I hadn’t been terribly excited about seeing it as it stood, and for all it strengths, it had the glaring weakness of not having a story worth telling. That’s usually the case with these sorts of things.
Away We Go, though, was different. I went in deeply suspicious; see, I have some issues with Sam Mendes. As much as I can appreciate his skill as a director, it seems his pet subject is the movie about how life in the suburbs is endlessly empty and stifling, that there’s something wrong with going into work every day, that unless you’re high on romance and adventure, your life is meaningless, without passion, without force or fortitude, and certainly without breadth. This was his thesis in American Beauty, although he ended up rejecting it at the end, and in Revolutionary Road, which has the added bonus of taking places in that stretch of horrorshow history we shrilly shriek “The Fifties,” and from everything I’d heard, this was the case with Away We Go.
I’ve read some bitter reviews. TIME Magazine said the movie was nothing but a scathing denunciation of Americans, as an endless parade of imperfect people were held up in comparison to Our Heroes, a sort of liberal fantasy about what sort of person your supposed to be. It further maintained that every episode of the picture was trying to paint normal life as not worth a damn as Burt and Verona crossed the country trying to invent their family. One reviewer said it “takes the boorishness of Americans as a given and valorizes nonconformance for its own sake,” and even the positive reviews merely call the movie “pleasant” and agree that it’s still somehow a self-important, narcissistic picture. “Indulgent bore about a freeloading couple who visit their friends. Nothing happens.”
Were we watching the same movie?
I haven’t read a single review that caught the movie’s basic idea: Burt and Verona, who is pregnant are traveling across the country to try and figure out what family means. Every friend they visit, they visit in the context of a family, trying to find a model for how they’re supposed to be, and every family offers them advice on their vision for the same: first, for the Allison Janney-Jim Gaffigan set, marriage and family is difficult and depressing, the children don’t listen, the mother’s a nutcase, the father doesn’t care; then, Burt’s ultra-liberal hippie friends who think its a good idea to have sex in front of the children and consider strollers “pushing your children away from you;” the happy family in Montreal, struggling to balance a little adventure and (adopted) children, while masking the ugly pain of five straight miscarriages, the then, Burt’s brother, whose wife up and left him and his daughter, without anybody knowing where or why.
It’s family after family after family after family, and in each one, Burt and Verona are trying to uncover what sort of family they’re supposed to be. Completely untethered, they want to find their place, their purpose, and their personal vision of family. It’s a postmodern couple trying to find meaning, trying to find something eternal, in a world that always tells you life is whatever you want it to be. And in the end, they find that meaning by plugging right back into the past. Our Heroes embraced, after a fashion, their own pain and used at as the foundation of love on which they’d build their lives in a very special home.