Maya Rudolph and John Krasinski in AWAY WE GO
Don’t believe any positive hype for the noxiously smug AWAY WE GO. Throughout the film, I kept thinking of AUNTIE MAME, of all things. As “classically entertaining” as that movie is, there’s no escaping a certain sometimes irritating complacency about the title character’s oh-so admirable liberal beliefs and actions, especially in the scenes dealing with the rich, bigoted Upson family into which her nephew, Patrick, dreams of marrying. I always found the Upsons a movie-saving riot, played with delicious vulgarity by Willard Waterman, Lee Patrick doing Billie Burke as a racist, and, especially, Joanne Barnes with her priceless caricature of a frozen debutante afflicted with a voice and accent once described as Locust Valley lockjaw. As horrible as the Upsons were, they brought definite, varied merriment into the sometimes indefatigable, exhausting one-woman party represented by Rosalind Russell, forever drawing herself up into Greer Garson-ish grande dame poses, stagily spotlit by fawning Director Morton DaCosta, and dispensing loftily liberal pronouncements. The party scene in which she humiliates them and gives them their all-too deserving comeuppance seems too easy, a massacre of ducks in a barrel, and the slightly noxious whiff of self-righteousness is inescapable.
Rosalind Russell as Auntie Mame, all-too-handily demolishing the Upsons (Willard Waterman and Lee Patrick)
All of AWAY WE GO plays like that one party scene,
with a hugely pregnant Maya Rudolph as Verona De Tessant (if you will!) and her scruffily lovable doofus of a husband (John Krasinski) traveling cross-country and encountering various acquaintances who are so misguided, wrongheadedly obsessed or just plain wack-o, that it just reaffirms how superior the two of them are, despite their worries about their precarious underachiever position in life. As with his hate letters to the American bourgeoisie AMERICAN BEAUTY and REVOLUTION ROAD, Sam Mendes over-eggs the pudding once more with his depiction of the majority of U.S. inhabitants as hapless, woefully befuddled losers or screechingly obnoxious assholes. Although he has lived in this country for years, and with great commercial/artistic success, he still can’t resist seeing Americans as either quaint or appalling, eccentricity-filled cartoons. (It‘s the kind of condescending, peculiarly Brit thing John Schlesinger and Richard Lester and Tony Richardson did in the 1960s to such heavy-handed effect in MIDNIGHT COWBOY, PETULIA, and THE LOVED ONE, voraciously biting the hand that once fed their illustrious New Wave Brit film careers.) Mendes also layers on one more tired, patronizing dramatic convention: the warm, infuriatingly all-knowing woman – here with the actual, somewhat tiresome gift of life growing within her – complacently resigned to dealing with her bumbling oaf of a man, dating back to the James M. Barrie of THE LITTLE MINISTER and WHAT EVERY WOMAN KNOWS. As is often the case with Mendes, there’s not one believably human character in the entire film.
Maggie Gyllenhaal, best thing about AWAY WE GO
The most Upson-ish characters here are played by Maggie Gyllenhaal and Josh Hamilton, as an insufferable New Age couple, filled with precious and bizarre ideas about child rearing. (We’ve all endured people like this, me, especially, as I’ve just returned to NYC from Santa Fe/Taos, heartland of p.c. tyranny.) “Why should I want to PUSH my child AWAY from me?” she says at one point, railing against that Vehicle of Satan, the stroller. She and Hamilton (always best when cast obnoxiously) are very funny, much more so than Rudolph and Krasinski, and this sequence plays the best in a movie that is really just a series of sketches strung together in which other actors like Allison Janney and Jeff Daniels are forced to push and overdo schtick we’ve seen them perform many times before.
Joanna Barnes: Her Gloria Upson deserved an Oscar nomination