World Hum Travel Movie Club: ‘Away We Go’

Speaker's Corner: Eva Holland and Eli Ellison debate the summer's hippest road trip flick

06.12.09 | 11:04 AM ET


Following exclusive engagements in Los Angeles and New York City, “Away We Go”—the new road trip dramedy penned by novelists Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida—opens in theaters nationwide today.

World Hum Travel Movie Clubbers Eva Holland and Eli Ellison flashed their impressive World Hum media credentials and gained access to advance screenings. Here’s their take on the film that will have The Believer magazine subscribers and others lined up around the block this weekend.

To: Eli
From: Eva
Subject: What’s a pair of young parents to do?

From the previews, I expected “Away We Go” to be a sweet, funny journey through a colorful American landscape of quirky characters—which it was, in some ways. Only the landscape wasn’t as colorful as I’d anticipated. And the characters? Well, it seemed like most of them were less funny-quirky and more horrid-quirky. Let’s start with that second point, shall we?

The story follows Burt and Verona, unmarried 30-something parents-to-be, as they set out to find a home for their family. After Burt’s shallow, WASP-y parents drop the news that they’ll be moving to Belgium just one month before the due date, the couple realizes they’re no longer tied to any one spot. So they visit friends and relatives in Phoenix, Tucson, Madison, Montreal and Miami in hopes of finding a place where they can belong. Alright so far—but Eli, Burt’s parents are so cartoonishly dreadful (“Now just how dark do you think the baby will be?” the mother asks mixed-race Verona at one point) that I wondered why the pair ever wanted to live near them in the first place. And that trend—of nice Burt and Verona encountering truly unpleasant people—continues through Phoenix, with a hilariously crude, loudmouth ex-colleague, played by the always wonderful Allison Janney, and Madison, where Burt meets up with a childhood friend (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who has grown up to become aggressively, obnoxiously new age-y.

Of course, these encounters provide a lot of the movie’s laughs, but after a while they started to wear me down. The lesson seems to be that the world is full of ugly, nasty people raising their children to be ugly, nasty people—hardly a cheery message for poor Burt and Verona, about to have their first child.

Beyond the nasty-quirky characters, what really let me down was that American landscape. I was primed for some serious road trip porn, and for the most part I didn’t get what I was after. Sure, there were some nice sequences: a good drive through Arizona, for instance, and some bang-on scenes that capture the in-between-ness of airports and airplanes. But for the most part this was a movie more about the people than the places—and, well, I’ve already said my piece about the people.

Here’s what I did like: I thought large chunks of the script were hilarious, and I loved the odd, sweet chemistry between Burt and Verona, played by John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph. That relationship forms the core of the movie, so I suppose, overall, this one was a winner in my book.

What about you, Eli? Did you enjoy your cross-country tour with Burt and Verona? Or did you just want them to go away?

To: Eva
From: Eli
Subject: Drag me to indie hell

Did I want Burt and Verona to go away? Before seeing the movie, I did. Watching the trailer, all the pretentious indie “film” red flags were there. Quirky, we’re-smarter-than-you dialogue written to wow NPR disciples and McSweeney’s weenies? Check. Movie poster art done in crayon and “Juno” font? Check. Poignancy punctuated by soft acoustic guitar and vocals by under-the-radar singer/songwriter? Quick, somebody get me a MacBook and a cup of fair trade coffee. Must Twitter.

A ridiculous stereotype? Sure. But so is nearly every character in this picture. And that’s one of its downfalls. As you pointed out, the “quirky-horrid” characters are clearly meant to be comic relief. Janney and Gyllenhaal do deliver wickedly funny scenes (the latter’s sea horse sex talk is hilarious), but the stereotypes wear thin and turn unfunny fast. And frankly, by the movie’s mid-point, I was a bit bored.

Thankfully, as you said, Krasinski and Rudolph are great together. I believed them as a real couple, which is tough to pull off. Credit the actors and literary IT couple Eggers/Vida for writing some perceptive, nicely understated dialogue. The only problem with our heroes is they’re immune to ridicule. While the movie takes great pleasure in mocking society’s unenlightened dregs, never once are Burt or Verona the butt of a joke. And no, Burt’s bumbling doesn’t count. It’s clearly intended as an endearing quality.

The supposedly clueless golden couple is untouchable. Is it perhaps because the movie is autobiographical? Are Eggers and Vida a bit too self-important to laugh at themselves? At times, I thought the movie felt a little smug. How ‘bout you?

Ok. I’ll stop sounding like a pompous film critic now and talk travel. No, this isn’t your classic road trip flick. As you pointed out, the people are the places. But that’s often the case in life, so I can’t fault the film for being realistic. As for capturing the feeling of Airworld and train travel and cheap motels, I agree it was all spot-on. How ‘bout Montreal? You’re a Canuck. Did that look and feel right?

Yes, like you, I came away a tad disappointed we didn’t get sweeping, grandiose shots of the American landscape. But remember, Eva, that’s so Hollywood cliché. And this movie is so indie. Did I enjoy tagging along on Burt and Verona’s trip? Yes and no. Mostly no. What about you? You call this a “winner,” yet your review seems lukewarm.

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Eva Holland is co-editor of World Hum. She is a former associate editor at Up Here and Up Here Business magazines, and a contributor to Vela. She's based in Canada's Yukon territory.

Eli Ellison

5 Comments for World Hum Travel Movie Club: ‘Away We Go’

Julia Ross 06.12.09 | 11:36 AM ET

great back and forth, eva and eli. I find Krasinski totally endearing, so I think I’ll give it a shot.

Eva Holland 06.12.09 | 2:33 PM ET

It’s definitely worth checking out, Julia! Let us know what you think. (And I heart JK, too.)

Laura 06.12.09 | 3:35 PM ET

I always enjoy your reviews Eli and Eva, but you may have talked me out of seeing this one at the movies. I too like Krasinski and I loved Maya Rudolph in Idiocracy so I was looking forward to this one.  I may wait for the DVD after all.

TambourineMan 06.26.09 | 5:26 PM ET

Julia and Laura, I’ve been following Away We Go’s box office take. Despite heavy advertising here in LA and on Comedy Central (Daily Show & Colbert Report), I’m guessing it’ll hit DVD within two months. If you can wait, it’s worth a rental.

Peter 07.12.09 | 1:46 AM ET

I am definitely going to wait as this is movie worth waiting for.

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