Just Watched: Away We Go (also 12 Rounds 3-sentence review)

Apologies once more for the delay between blogs, hopefully I’ll start remembering to get on here more frequently! I was going to upload a review of 12 Rounds which I watched a while ago, before realizing that I could do the review in about 3 sentences and tack it on the front of another, better review. So I will:

John Cena in 12 Rounds: Surly, burly and rly pissed.

John Cena in 12 Rounds: Surly, burly and srsly pissed.

Det. Danny Fisher (burly WWE man John Cena, surprisingly decent) is burly cop trying to get his kidnapped girlfriend back from supervillain Miles Jackson (Aidan Gillen, winningly hammy) by completing a number of cryptic games (bet you can’t guess how many) set by our roguish villain. Oodles of movie clichés occur – minority sidekick obviously dies, FBI agent realizes how humanity must come before duty, etc – but there are a couple of decent set-pieces and Gillen (who you may recognize as The Wire’s Tommy Carcetti. If you don’t, go and buy/watch The Wire, you uncultured swine) lends the whole thing a bit of credibility. Standard, but watchable, 5/10.

Anyway, onto the actual review. Sunday morning past, I voyaged to a 10am preview screening of Sam Mendes’ new picture, Away We Go. After all the hoop-la surrounding Mendes’ Revolutionary Road, I was unsure how well his style would translate to a movie which is part road movie, part rom-com and part balls-out comedy. However, I was very pleasantly surprised.

The plot follows newly-pregnant couple Burt (The American Office’s John Krasinski) and Verona (Saturday Night Live alum Maya Rudolph) as they try and find a new home after discovering Burt’s parents are leaving for Antwerp. What ensues is a whistle-stop tour of North America as the pair visit friends in Phoenix, Wisconsin, Montreal and Tucson (oh yes indeed) amongst others looking for a new place to raise their child.

It’s a decent concept, but the script written by first-time screenwriters Dave Eggers (he of the book A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) and Vendela Vida is full of wit, charm and memorable characters. Instead of following the standard happy-breakup-makeup formula that dooms 99% of romantic comedies, there is no huge fallout between Burt and Verona; they alone are a united couple who never look like snapping under the pressure of financial woes or personal struggles.

Krasinski and Rudolph in the lead roles are tremendous: he as the relentless optimist who will do anything for his family and she the heavily-pregnant fretter. Unsurprisingly, given their comedy backgrounds, both excel in the funnier scenes and work wonders with their predicaments. The concern may well have been that they might struggle with the darker moments of the movie, but they deliver here aswell: far from fumbling with the depressing concepts (which include miscarriage and divorce) handled, the leading couple drive every scene they’re in, giving Burt and Verona real verve and making us see how great they are as soon-to-be parents.

However, they are given sterling support both on-screen and off. A stellar supporting cast including Maggie Gyllenhaal (as crazy hippie parent LN), Allison Janney (as a loveably drunken mother) and Jeff Daniels (as Burt’s father) all give great turns, allowing Burt and Verona to glue the story together rather than trying to draw focus from the leads for personal glory. Also wonderful is the direction from Mendes, who shows some of the artistic flair he displayed in American Beauty with wonderful panning shots of travel – cars against desert sunsets, trains whipping down the rails – whilst keeping the dialogue-fuelled scenes simple and direct. Mendes makes the actors the stars instead of the camera, and restricts the artsiness to moments when it’s needed. In doing so, the beautiful camera shots are much more effective.

Verona and Burt enjoy an intimate moment. A scene involving maybe the best pregnancy revelation ever.

Verona and Burt enjoy an intimate moment. A scene involving maybe the best pregnancy revelation ever.

Of course, every movie has its flaws, and this is no different. A couple of the characters are somewhat egregious and overblown, and the crux of the movie – Burt’s parents leaving their home for Antwerp – is never really fully explained. They come across as loving parents, but their decision is only justified with “we’ve been planning it for years”, which is a bit of a cop-out. However, the script fizzes most of the time, and the drama and comedy are deftly handled in equal measure. Away We Go never feels disjointed or misaligned, and flows wonderfully from scene to scene. One of the best comedies you’ll see this year.

8/10: Excellent central performances from Krasinski and Rudolph anchor a terrific little movie full of big laughs and emotional drive, and the two leads will surely use this as a springboard for more headline roles. A wonderful cast, great direction, a clever script and the mentioning of one-half of this blog’s title make it a thoroughly original and enjoyable movie, and we all need more of those.

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