The film I discussed last time, 500 Days of Summer, was a runaway sleeper hit more successful than anyone imagined. Away We Go, the amazing movie I’m exploring in this post, didn’t even make it’s modest budget back at the box office. As much as I loved 500 Days of Summer and wish both movies had found success, this is the one more deserving. Away We Go is a little indie film starring John Krasinski (of The Office fame) and Maya Rudolph (a brilliant character actor who’s in literally everything).
I must have seen this film five or six times by now. It’s the only one I can honestly say gets better each time my wife and I sit down to watch it. I can guarantee this film would be in my top-five list, something I can’t say for the other two movies I’ve discussed this week.
As usual, I’m about to spoil this movie.
This is not a perfect film. I want to get this out of the way from the top, because I’m not here to review this movie. I’m here to talk about its meaningfulness to existence as a human being with a heart and feelings. Some scenes are very odd. The film tries to do comedy, often really well but sometimes badly, leading to segments that take the viewer out of the dramatic experience. I have practically every scene memorized, and shudder a bit when the cringy ones come up. The rest of what some call issues I call advantages, and the late Roger Ebert, who loved this film in the same way I did, was able to express that with his usual elegance.
The highest praise I can give to this film is its impeccable casting decisions. Never before have I seen two people act more in love long-term than here, and Krasinski and Rudolph deserve praise for making it look effortless. With their genuine chemistry, they must have gotten really close for their roles. Watch their eyes. Observe their facial expressions. Hear the eagerness in Burt’s voice as he constantly is trying to cheer up his pregnant
wife girlfriend. Listen as Verona expertly wonders about the validity of their life choices while stressing about their upcoming child. The performances makes all the difference in turning the script of an average dramedy into a tour de force of emotional resonance.
In the context of Rom-Com Week: What If wonderfully illustrates the spontaneous joy of falling in love. 500 Days of Summer pungently shows the darkness of yearning and loss when love doesn’t work out. Away We Go is true, developed love after the rom-com is over. It is love on the journey towards being the best people possible, an eternally optimistic hope that true love will never devolve to disinterested frustration. It’s a sign that love is working towards something better, not a long drive away from freedom and youth.
This film represents the now, rather than the past, in my life. Not the pregnancy part, obviously. We haven’t reached that phase of our lives. But you know this film will absolutely be my go-to for comedy and contemplation if and when Nikki and I ever find ourselves with a bun in the oven, so to speak. Rather, it’s symbolic of our transitions as a newlywed couple. Not only are we moving from place to place – having relocated last July 600 miles away from where we had lived our whole lives – but the story is also cognizant of our transition from childhood to adulthood.
This film’s theme is growing up, and although tales like Peter Pan have used similar motifs, this one handles it with worthy organizational grace. Case in point, Burt and Verona start the film living like a student: in a small house with poor insulation and messy work-spaces. Questioning if they’re screw-ups, they travel around for a while, trying to find themselves. They end up back in Verona’s family home: a large house on the Florida coast in major need of fixing up. I trust you see the symbolism. Away We Go is as much a film about the journey from youth to maturity as it is about the migration from point A to Z and everywhere in between. It is life’s journey, perfectly compressed for film.
It’s not just about the travel, either. The theme permeates down to the order of the people they meet.
First, during their stop in Phoenix, the couple reconnects with Verona’s old boss Lily (played by the insanely talented Allison Janney) and her cooky husband. The film makes a special point to show that they are less mature than their preteen kids: dirty jokers, opinionated with no educational background, and genuinely mean-spirited. They act with the maturity of twelve-year-old boys.
Next, in Madison, WI, they meet up with Burt’s childhood friend Ellen (played by the equally talented Maggie Gyllenhaal – did I mention this film has amazing cast?), who has completely changed into a new-aged hippie college professor. She was as unrecognizable as, say, a young adult who has gone far away to college and is trying to find herself.
After that, Verona and Burt fly to Montreal where they meet their friends Tom and Munch, who appear happy on the surface but are having serious trouble conceiving. Finally, the couple flies back home to Miami where Burt’s brother’s wife has suddenly left him without warning and no way for reconciliation.
If it’s not apparent by now, each location represents an age in life. Phoenix is the recklessness of childhood. Madison is the soul-searching existentialism of young adulthood. Montreal is the difficulties and stress of middle age. And Miami is the loss of growing old.
If that’s the case, then the couple moving back into her family house on the coast may represent a birthing for the child and possibly a rebirthing for the parents. Their journey across North America has brought them wisdom and maturity, and in turn a purpose in life. In the last scene, as the music swells and all the memories come back to them, the viewer can see the relief that their long journey has concluded. Their pilgrimage towards being better people, understanding more about each other, and learning how to deal with eccentric people along the way stuck a deeper emotional chord with me than almost any other film I’ve seen.
In turn, I feel watching their journey helped me with my own, and especially on all of the paths I share with my wife. I’m not completely sure where Nikki and I are on that passage: Phoenix, Madison, Montreal, Miami… St. Louis? Where does that fit into our story? But I know we love each other. And that’s a powerful defense towards the disappointment, yearning, and pain that can manifest in life.
Why don’t you help this underrated film out and pick it up on DVD? It deserves more love. I remember Nikki and I found our first copy at a random flea market where someone was selling his collection of movies. But if you can’t find a copy or are unwilling to order it online, you can rent it on Amazon Prime Instant Video for a few bucks.
I truly hope you enjoyed reading Rom-Com Week as much as I enjoyed writing it. I’ve learned a lot about myself this week, especially in matters of the heart. Let me know in the comments what you thought of this week and which film was your favorite. If you’ve got a favorite rom-com, I’d also love to hear about it. I’d love to do something like this again in the future!