Director: Sam Mendes Release: 18 September Review by Robert Haughton Some say it’s a strange direction for Sam Mendes to take. Since the gritty Road to Perdition and high profile Jarhead I would not have expected a somewhat twee and off-centre road movie to come from Mendes. Going on the road with his new offering was a pleasant surprise. Burt (John Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph) are expecting a child. After Burt’s nearby parents announce their plans to leave for Belgium before the baby is born they hit a dilemma: should they stay in the backwater or move on to fresh pastures? Our couple move on, visiting old friends and relatives in different parts of North America to figure out where their own place in the world is. Presented in a series of ‘Away to…’ shorts with the overhead narrative arcs of Burt and Verona holding the continuity, they see a panoramic view of family dynamics influencing them to come to their own conclusions. On paper, the story seems very simple. Written by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, the married pair create gold from the simple ‘base metal’ of a question. The dialogue is key to this success. Whether it is a pithy one-liner or a Pinter pause Eggers and Vida craft a voice for this movie and each character within. Burt’s verbal skills, as shown in his corporate ‘phone voice’, only highlight his bumbling charm. Many a man would falter and fail when they put their foot in it, especially in context of a pregnant partners weight and vaginal visibility. The dialogue blends truthful nuances and comedy seamlessly. It seems that the actors had nailed down the characters very well making the delivery exceptional, but the content is full of little details which show polish and a great understanding between writer, actor and audience. Hats off to the choice of music too; a lovely blend of Americana folk that gives movement to the film. The acting is superb. Krasinski and Rudolph have great chemistry. Their long-standing relationship is full of patience and warmth. The characters offer insights into their relationship gladly so the audience is never excluded or alienated. Away We Go is their story, but it is the supporting cast that make this movie a spectacle. Each town they visit presents the family dynamics of their friends and relatives. A feast of talent is on offer from the cast. Pheonix brings Lily (Allison Janney) and Lowell (Jim Gaffigan) as the dismissive, disaffected parents, taunting their children and spouting blaze and jingoistic opinions to anyone listening. We see Maggie Gyllenhaal’s experimental new age parenting turn, just as hard line the ballsy nationalists in Phoenix. The dinner scene with our central characters and its climax is one of the highlights of the film. With all this flippancy and comedy, there is real pathos found in other visits. Bert’s brother Courtney (Paul Schneider) struggles with the breakdown of the nuclear family. Especially moving is Melanie Lynskey and Chris Messina and their internal crumble due to fertility complications. Melanie trying to claw to her femininity with a pole dance gets the point across subtly. I don’t think I’ve ever felt melancholic with a strip club scene, so there’s a first. Mendes has offered up a great slice of differing American values with Away We Go. The road trip is an American tradition after all. With a great sense of direction and excellent writing, Mendes has made something beautiful with a cast that really show their mettle. I can tell you this is much slicker and a more mature treatment of parenthood than some other offerings of recent times. It’s a testament to anyone who is yet to become a parent. A hopeful voice telling us not to worry, we’ll find our own way. For anyone not concerned with that aspect, it’s an off-centre comedy that brilliantly hits the mark. Rating: 8/10