One of the best films of 2008, director Sam Mendes' Revolutionary Road offered a powerful and penetrating study of a bickering couple trapped by the conformity they felt defined -- and controlled -- their lives. Mendes' latest picture takes a different tack, examining a loving pair who forge their own path in an attempt to find their place in the world. It's a nice about-face for the director, even if the results prove to be wildly uneven.
Working from a script by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, Mendes focuses on Burt (John Krasinski) and his pregnant girlfriend Verona (Maya Rudolph), who visit friends and family members in various parts of the country (plus Canada) in an attempt to figure out the best place to raise their child. Initially, they're mainly forced to contend with folks who behave outrageously -- Burt's parents (Catherine O'Hara and Jeff Daniels) and Maya's former boss (Allison Janney) among them -- but calmer visits to old college chums (Chris Messina and Melanie Lynskey) and Burt's brother (Paul Schneider) allow them to take stock of their situation in a more clearheaded manner.
Similar in tone (if not degree of success) to Zach Braff's Garden State, Away We Go is an introspective piece about young people wrestling with the notion of what truly constitutes the cherished notions of "home" and "family." Yet even indelible comic turns by Janney and Maggie Gyllenhaal (as a New Age weirdo who believes it's important for children to watch their parents having sex) can't completely subjugate the smugness and self-importance that alternately raise their heads through the first half of the film. The second part is more affecting, though it similarly suffers from an episodic structure that curtails some segments before they reach their full potential. Perhaps a tighter focus would have prevented this curious road flick from veering all over the map.