Film of the week

Away We Go (15)

3.00

Families, and how to survive them

Copy an idea once, and it's plagiarism; copy it a dozen times, and it's a cliché; keep on copying, and sooner or later you've got yourself a genre – and at that point, the fact that you've copied an idea matters less than any tiny variations you manage to introduce. In Away We Go, the main characters travel around America, meeting eccentric or plain screwed-up people and discovering heart-warming truths about the importance of family, and I can't decide where it stands on the continuum I have described. My head says I should be damning Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, the husband-and-wife writers, for the lazy and derivative format (cf Little Miss Sunshine, The Straight Story, etc); but my soft heart is urging me to praise them for importing a little originality into it.

We open with Burt and Verona (John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph) in bed, his head busy under the quilt: why, he wonders, does her vagina taste so fruity? Like quite a lot of the film, that bit of dialogue is cuter on screen than it reads on the page, thanks largely to the warmth that Krasinski and Rudolph bring to it. It's also a neatly conceived way of announcing both Verona's pregnancy, the mainspring of the plot, and the sort of film we're in for – wacky, talky, uninhibited, sexy, domestic (later on, "melancholy" gets added to the list).

Move on six months or so: over dinner, Burt's parents (Jeff Daniels and Catherine O'Hara) announce that they won't be around for the baby's birth because they're finally going to fulfil their long-cherished dream of going to live in "the City of Light" – Antwerp (I think I mentioned "wacky" earlier). Since Maya and Burt are only living in this unspecified but cold and remote part of America because his parents are there, and since their jobs are portable – he sells insurance futures, she does detailed and gruesome anatomical drawings for medical textbooks (wacky!) – they decide they could just as easily live anywhere, and start looking. And that's about it, as far as story goes. Cesare Pavese wrote that, "if immoral works of literature exist, they are works in which there is no plot." If we're applying that to films, then Away We Go is practically depraved.

First, so the intertitles announce, "Away to Phoenix". At the airport (at least this isn't a road-movie), Verona's old boss, Lily, greets her with encouraging cries of "You're huge! And your face is so fat!" before she, along with her misanthropic husband and understandably sullen children, treats them to a masterclass in dysfunctional marriage and parenting – Allison Janney delivering her excruciating lines with a jolting energy that makes everything that comes after seem slightly dreary. Next, by rented car 120 miles to Tucson, to see Verona's younger sister, and a somewhat sentimental interlude (but in a bathroom showroom! sitting in a bathtub!) in which it is revealed that Verona can never bring herself to talk about their dead parents.

From Tucson they travel north by train, having been refused permission to fly because Verona looks way more than six months pregnant (a running joke about her vastness and people's readiness to comment on it is the closest thing the film has to a coherent structure). In Madison, Wisconsin, Burt has an interview for a job promotion and they plan to see his childhood friend Ellen: she has grown up into Maggie Gyllenhaal, changed her name to LN, and is living in a dippy, offensively self-righteous household based on the "continuum" principle of keeping your children close at all times, and adopting the gender roles of "the seahorse community". The episode is very funny, and has a ring of truth, but at this point the film's own self-righteousness starts to weigh a little: it seems as though Burt and Verona are going to turn out to be the only sane, unselfish people left in the world, and the film's whole trajectory is towards a confirmation of their loveliness.

Away to Montreal, where their friends Tom and Munch seem to have something approaching a perfect life: a gorgeous bunch of kids in a lovely house, even if they do always turn off The Sound of Music before the end so that the children don't have to deal with the whole Nazi thing. Tom and Munch even manage to go out at night and have fun. Ah, but there's a worm in the bud: the children are adopted; Munch keeps having miscarriages, and their marriage is full of sadness.

A lightning change of direction: away to Miami to rescue Burt's brother, whose wife has walked out on him (he wonders if it is OK for him to tell their daughter she has been murdered).

The final section is entitled "Home": Burt and Verona drive their beaten-up old Volvo to her family house, somewhere down south, where she hasn't been since her parents died years earlier; and this beautiful old building, set among woods by a lake, is where they will bring up their child. After all that unconventionality, all that picaresque and zany humour, it turns out that this is really a deeply orthodox American morality tale about the importance of parents, of talking about your feelings, of coming to terms with the past, and how there's no place like home.

Away We Go is unconventional and cynical only as far as that looks cute; it certainly doesn't want to rock any boats or point any fingers.

This isn't a complaint, though, or not much of one: it's nice to see Sam Mendes trying his hand at a happy couple, rather than the dry, loveless marriages depicted in American Beauty and Revolutionary Road. Away We Go is slight, implausible and more fuddy-duddy than it wants to let on, but it's well-made, interesting, cynical enough to undercut its moments of sentimentality, and kind of fun. When I came out, I felt a little more cheerful than when I went in.



Anthony Quinn is away

Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
Arts and Entertainment
Swiss guards stand in the Sistine Chapel, which is to be lit, and protected, by 7,000 LEDs
artSistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer, Lord Alan Sugar, Karren Brady are returning for The Apprentice series 10

TV
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder star in 'Girl, Interrupted'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas Pynchon in 1955, left, and Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix in Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of his novel, Inherent Vice

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Nicole Scherzinger will join the cast of Cats

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Fans were left surprised by the death on Sunday night's season 26 premiere

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lady Mary goes hunting with suitor Lord Gillingham

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

    Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

    A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
    Time to stop running: At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity

    Time to stop running

    At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
    An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

    An app for the amorous

    Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

    Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
    She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

    She's having a laugh

    Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

    Let there be light

    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
    Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

    Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

    Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
    Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

    A look to the future

    It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
    The 10 best bedspreads

    The 10 best bedspreads

    Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
    Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

    Arsenal vs Galatasaray

    Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
    Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence