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Away We Go(2009)
Anticipating the birth of their first child, longtime couple Burt and Verona embark on an ambitious itinerary to visit friends and family in order to find their perfect home.
For more about Away We Go and the Away We Go Blu-ray release, see Away We Go Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on September 27, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Director: Sam Mendes
Writers: Dave Eggers, Vendela Vida
Starring: John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Jeff Daniels, Carmen Ejogo, Jim Gaffigan, Maggie Gyllenhaal
» See full cast & crew
Away We Go Blu-ray Review
Sam Mendes' quirky, heartfelt comedy earns a solid Blu-ray release...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, September 27, 2009
My favorite filmmakers are those who defy expectation; talented visionaries who, for better or worse, experiment with the medium and find new, fertile ground to tell fresh, unpredictable tales. Filmmakers like Sam Mendes. In his feature film debut, American Beauty, he skewered middle class American values and dreams, nabbing eight Oscar nominations and five statues in the process (including Best Director and Best Picture). In Road to Perdition, a powerful film adapted from an obscure graphic novel, he transformed Tom Hanks into a Depression-era hitman struggling to connect with his young son. In Jarhead, a dark dramedy released two years after the US invasion of Iraq, he focused on the inherent contradictions of war and the stress such contradictions place on a combatant. In Revolutionary Road he turned on passion and privilege, challenging viewers with a pair of self-absorbed narcissists in the midst of a disintegrating marriage. Mendes' latest film represents yet another departure for the award-winning director. A complete tonal 180 from his DiCaprio/Winslet gut-punch, Away We Go explores the depths of genuine love, the fears faced by soon-to-be parents, and the allure of that fabled place all young couples long to find: home.
Meet Burt (The Office's John Krasinski) and Verona (SNL alum Maya Rudolph), unmarried soulmates preparing for the arrival of their first child. Now meet Burt's parents, Jerry (Jeff Daniels) and Gloria (Catherine O'Hara), two selfish world-travelers who announce their plans to move to Belgium a month before the baby is due. The problem? Burt and Verona moved to Colorado so their coming daughter could be raised near her grandparents. Still reeling from the news, the befuddled couple decide to visit various friends and family -- Verona's former colleagues Lily (Allison Janney) and Lowell (Jim Gaffigan); her sister Grace (Carmen Ejogo); Burt's non-conformist cousin LN (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and her loony partner Roderick (Josh Hamilton); old friends Tom (Chris Messina) and Munch (Melanie Lynskey); and Burt's lovelorn brother Courtney (Paul Schneider) -- in an attempt to find a place that feels like home. As their journey leads them to Phoenix, Tuscon, Madison, Montreal, Miami, and a variety of stops in between, Burt and Verona try to define the life they want to provide their daughter, decide what sort of parents they want to be, and find a connection, anywhere, with people who understand their struggles and fears.
The entirety of Away We Go hinges on the performances of Krasinski and Rudolph, accomplished television actors who, up until now, have failed to leave any notable mark on the big screen. But with Mendes' steady hand at the helm, they both deliver. Krasinski channels his inner-Office charm, infusing it with a tender, unassuming restraint that makes his Burt as endearing as he is relatable. He rarely has a snappy comeback or a perfect answer, he often fumbles his words, and his still-mellow anger only surges when he feels the need to protect the love of his life. Rudolph puts aside her established repertoire as well, pairing Verona's somewhat timid nature and self-doubt with a remarkable affection for her boyfriend. She keeps her expressions soft and her words softer, crafting a thoughtful and compatible companion for Krasinski's well-intentioned everyman. Together, they represent one of the more believable couples committed to film in recent memory. If I watched Away We Go without any knowledge of the actors' personal lives, I would have assumed I was watching a real couple calling upon their own experiences to craft an incredibly convincing relationship. Even though some of their individual quirks are a bit contrived (Burt's "work voice" is funny but forced), I legitimately fell in love with both characters long before the credits rolled.
Unfortunately, quirky comedies are divisive beasts. While I imagine most anyone will agree that Burt and Verona are lovable, even compelling characters, some of their friends and family won't sit as well with casual viewers. Burt's parents are laughably selfish, so much so that it's difficult to believe their Belgium plans would come as such a shock. Lily feels as if she's been plucked from another film; a more traditional comedy offering caricatures instead of people. LN is taken to such an extreme that she briefly disrupts Mendes' momentum, leaving little to enjoy in Gyllenhaal's scenes other than Krasinski and Rudolph's reactions. I know screenwriters Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida (as well as the director himself) are actively working to isolate Burt and Verona from everything they know, introducing a dash of hopelessness into the story that allows later developments to resonate, but a firm yank on the proverbial reigns would have helped the director take better advantage of Daniels, O'Hara, Janney, and Gyllenhaal's talents, and make their performances far more enjoyable.
Thankfully, these characters primarily appear in the first act (for mere minutes at that). The second and third acts feature more understated performances from a slew of excellent actors who lend welcome weight to some of the film's finest scenes. Ejogo is magnificent as Verona's younger sister, injecting longing and sadness into her all-too-short appearance. Schneider sells his scenes with conviction, delivering a memorable, matter-of-fact assessment of his failed marriage, daughter's future, and new role as a single father. And then there's Messina and Lynskey. Their scenes represent masterstrokes of screenwriting, casting and acting. Their portrait of marriage was a breath of fresh air; their thoughts on love and family were a relief in the wake of LN's madness; the haunting revelation of their personal trials and tribulations brought tears to my eyes. In fact, Away We Go left me besieged by a steady stream of tears, not by way of syrupy exchanges or conventional heartstrings, but with palpable pathos and all-too-familiar joy. While I had a hard time latching onto Mendes' opening act, I was ultimately taken with the story, Burt and Verona's devotion, and the meaningful message that emerged as their quest to find a home came to a close.
I have no doubt there will be many people who have a hard time stomaching the particular quirks in Mendes' quirky comedy. It's inevitable. But I also have no doubt there will be many people like me who feel an indescribable connection to Eggers and Vida's humble nomads; who will not only look past the film's flaws, but absolutely adore what it has to say about love, family, and parenthood. I can't guarantee you'll enjoy it as much as I did, but Away We Go is certainly worth renting.
Away We Go Blu-ray, Video Quality
Away We Go features a tempered yet effective 1080p/VC-1 transfer that graciously compliments the somber tone of Burt and Verona's journey. In Arizona, sweltering oranges simmer alongside earthy browns without flushing faces or exacting cruel, summery revenge on Ellen Kuras' cinematography. In Montreal, absorbing shadows and breathtaking city lights mingle for a beautiful night on the town, granting a dinner date hopeful hues and a nightclub visit sobering greens and reds. In Miami, Kuras' seemingly disconnected palette finds balance with clean colors, natural skintones, and remarkable blacks. It's all quite striking. Fine detail waxes and wanes a bit, but I attribute every instance of softness I noticed to Mendes' intentions, not the technical presentation. Still, textures are generally refined (particularly in close-ups), edges are admirable, and depth is rewarding. More importantly, I didn't detect any significant artifacting, banding, noise, aliasing, or ringing. All things considered, Away We Go looks great.
Away We Go Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Away We Go isn't teeming with explosions or car chases; it doesn't offer snazzy directional effects or a rousing soundtrack. Mendes doesn't amp up his cross-country ambience or shock listeners with sudden sonic surges, and Alexi Murdoch's music is little more than a soothing breath on the back of Mendes' gentle breeze. Even so, Universal's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is an impressive one, not because it enhances the film's subdued sound design, but because it embraces it with such faithful devotion and satisfying proficiency. Dialogue is warm and intelligible, prioritization is spot on, and every line -- from Verona's quietest whisper to Burt's hilarious midair outbursts -- is perfectly clear. Rear speaker activity is quite subtle, but convincing interior acoustics and immersive environmental ambience more than make up for the inherently restrained mix. LFE output is passive as well but, considering the nature of the film, more aggressive support would have been a complete distraction. Ultimately, anyone approaching Away We Go with appropriate expectations will be thoroughly pleased with the results.
Away We Go Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Blu-ray edition of Away We Go arrives with the same supplemental package as its DVD counterpart. The meatiest extra is a breezy, witty, and engaging Audio Commentary with director Sam Mendes and writers Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida. The trio discusses the genesis of the project, its screenplay, its characters, the casting process, and more. The details and anecdotes provided won't blow anyone's mind, and Krasinski and Rudolph are sorely missed, but the track doesn't disappoint. Next up, a pair of unremarkable featurettes: The Making of Away We Go, a rather standard sixteen-minute EPK that tends to gloss over most anything of note, and Green Filmmaking, a seven-minute look at the filmmakers' efforts to run an environmentally conscious production. Universal's usual "My Scenes" bookmarking feature and basic BD-Live Functionality round out the underwhelming package.
Away We Go Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Away We Go may not be for everyone, but I fell in love with Burt and Verona, so much so that I found myself wishing more cinematic couples were as genuine, affectionate, and believable. Universal churns out yet another solid Blu-ray release, this time with an excellent video transfer, a subtle but strong DTS-HD Master Audio offering, and a decent smattering of special features. While a rental is in order for anyone who hasn't seen the film, fans will be quite happy with the studio's efforts.
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Away We Go Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Today on Blu-ray - September 29th - September 29, 2009
According to the Library of Congress, the 1939 film adaptation of the American fairy tale 'The Wizard of Oz' is the most watched film of all time. After a mediocre (but successful) theatrical debut, the film gradually obtained an iconic status through re-releases ...
• Away We Go Blu-ray Announced - August 5, 2009
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has announced that it will release 'Away We Go' on Blu-ray on September 29, day-and-date with the DVD. Sam Mendes's follow-up to the star-studded, award-winning 'Revolutionary Road' was this small movie that explores the comedic ...
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