Away we go, Edinburgh International Film Festival, Edinburgh

3.00

A safe trip down a well-worn path

From American Beauty to this year's Revolutionary Road, Sam Mendes has made it his business to explore the trials and tribulations of domesticity. As the curtain-raiser for this year's Edinburgh International Film Festival, his new movie, Away We Go, continues this obsession, albeit with Mendes shifting down a gear to deliver a comic travelogue that finally gets him out of the suburbs. Forget Two Lane Blacktop and the like; what follows is probably the most right-on road movie ever made.

Penned by husband-and-wife authors Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, the plot follows unmarried thirty-somethings Burt (John Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph) as they come to terms not only with impending parenthood, but with the need to find their place in the world. With Verona six months pregnant, the Colorado couple are preparing for the life-changing experience when Burt's parents (Jeff Daniels, Catherine O'Hara) suddenly decide to take the chance to relocate (somewhat bizarrely) to Antwerp.

Shaken by this, not least because they'd moved to Colorado to be near Burt's parents (Verona's died in an accident years earlier), the couple decide to take off on a road trip to find a more suitable place to nest. Their first stop is Phoenix, where Verona's former colleague Lily (Allison Janney) now lives with her husband and two children. Vulgar and crass, Lily is a lush who lets inappropriate comments spill out of her mouth with alarming regularity (at one point, referring to her young daughter, she says, "this one has that dyke look – she looks like a teamster").

Undeterred, their next stop is in Tucson, where they briefly hook up with Verona's well-adjusted sister, Grace (Carmen Ejogo), but no sooner have we just got to grips with her, than its on to Madison, where Burt's childhood friend Ellen – or LN as she prefers – now resides. Played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, this University of Wisconsin professor of women's studies is like the Earth Mother from hell. When it comes to child rearing, when she isn't breast feeding other people's children, she abides by the "3S" rule: "no separation, no sugar, no strollers".

Like any road movie, particularly one that skips across rather humdrum terrain as this does, you're only as good as those you meet. And in the case of Away We Go, the characters that populate this particular journey veer dangerously towards condescending caricature. While the likes of Janney and Gyllenhaal go full-throttle, drawing plenty of laughs in their brief scenes, they're never given enough screen time to establish themselves as anything other than comic contrivances. The episodic nature of the script hardly helps either, never allowing a natural rhythm to be established as we hop from one state to the next.

It's not hard to see what Mendes is trying for here. As they blithely skip around North America – Montreal and Miami are also on the itinerary – the all-too-perfect Burt and Verona (despite early protestations that they may be "fuck-ups") are made to look entirely normal by the grotesque examples of damaged relationships that they encounter. By the time they meet Burt's brother (Paul Schneider), who has just been abandoned by his wife, in what is arguably the most touching sequence in the film, it's a relief to encounter someone relatively normal.

Scored with a selection of cuts from the Scottish singer-songwriter Alexi Murdoch, thankfully the film is anchored by two solid performances from its leads. The likeable Krasinski (Jim, the "Tim" figure from the US version of The Office) and the low-key Rudolph make for a convincing pairing and it's their commitment to the cause that also ensures the final scene is quietly moving. But while there are lines to savour, by Mendes' own high standards, Away We Go feels like a meandering doodle. Lacking his usual sharpness, he treads not so much a revolutionary road here, as an overly familiar one.

'Away We Go' is released on 18 September

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
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.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'