When self-confessed ‘fuck-ups’ Burt and Verona are confronted with Verona’s pregnancy at 34, they immediately look to Burt’s parents for support. When it becomes apparent that the child’s grandparents have little interest in the imminent birth, Burt and Verona take the logical step of touring North America whilst she is six months pregnant to look for the ideal place to raise their child.
This was when my problems with the film began, as the lack of grandparents did not seem to be a sufficiently convincing motivation for the couple to embark on a grueling road-trip. However, this is what they decide to do, travelling round the continent meeting up with old friends and family and discovering why they don’t want to raise their child in Phoenix (too red neck), Madison (too New Age) and Montreal (too depressing).
On one level Sam Mendes’ new film is a meditation on the meaning of marriage, parenthood, family and love in the modern world. On screen, this translates into scene after scene of Burt and Verona, often in tears, confessing their fears to one another whilst generic acoustic guitar music crescendos in the background. This might sound slightly heartless, but then again, I doubt the target audience for these parts of the film was twenty year old males.
Thankfully though, the rest of the film is held together by consistently funny scenes. Whereas Verona is often more obviously burdened by the travails of pregnancy, Burt is hilarious throughout, discoursing on subjects ranging from vaginal flavours to the merits of steak houses. One of the funniest scenes features Maggie Gyllenhaal as Burt’s disturbed cousin lecturing the on the evils of strollers and the beauty of the sea horse’s breeding rituals.
Away We Go has almost no heroes in it; it is full of apathetic parents, despairing wives and shell-shocked divorcees. In Phoenix, Burt meets the husband of one of Verona’s friends who, in his misery about being rejected from the golf club, drunkenly explains to Burt that ‘America is a piece of shit… I guess that makes everyone else flies on our shit.’
This unsettling examination of modern North American life balances the more saccharine parts of the film and denies the viewer a straightforwardly happy ending, leaving you instead to reflect on the enormity of the task that lies ahead of the characters.