Hey, do you remember when Hollywood gradually moved away from producing movies loaded with stock characters, clichés, and recycled plot lines? Remember when they made a concerted effort to produce films of all genres that challenged the familiar in favour of creativity, intelligent design, and fun?
Yeah, I don’t remember them doing that either. But wouldn’t it be nice if they did?
I’m so tired of crap movies that I will often go for months without watching a new one, just out of fear that I will have to sit through a poorly written, poorly acted, shamefully plagiarised piece of crap that should never have made it into the first stages of pre-production. It irks my wife to no end, since she often wants to see movies other than the ones in our DVD collection, but I keep telling her that I have been burned too many times. Too often am I Hollywood’s jilted lover, taken in again with her promises of good storytelling only to catch her in bed with Mr. Giant Plot Hole.
So when my wife sent me to go get “Away We Go,” I was reluctant to leave the house (and this time it wasn’t my low-level agoraphobia). While the previews looked good, I could easily imagine it becoming one of those hipster-doofus love stories that were once indie but have since become a standard Hollywood production since Michael Cera was sold off to the highest studio bidder.
I started the movie refusing to be drawn in, busying myself with an artistic project that would allow me an escape if things started to look familiar, but then something happened:
I found myself watching a really good movie.
In fact, I found myself watching a phenomenally good movie.
Normally when a movie makes secondary characters, they are (by necessity) a bit on the flat side; it’s hard to flesh out people that are only on screen for perhaps 10 minutes in total. But Sam Mendes (the director), Dave Eggers, and Vendela Vida (the writers) somehow made each of them completely human, flawed in a range from low-level neurosis (the nebbish brother whose wife abruptly leaves him to raise his daughter alone) to full-out nutcase (the “cousin” that hates strollers because “I love my babies! Why would I want to push them away from me?”).
And while you might assume that the conceit of travelling the country in search of a new place to settle and raise their future daughter would then become nothing more than a parade of funny characters, “Away We Go” turns everything into a study of what “home” really means. The goofy characters become studies in different levels of home-based function and dysfunction.
Amidst this, the movie rips into questions of parenthood, both responsible and otherwise, forcing the main characters (Burt and Verona) to look at how they will be as a mother and a father. Toward the end of the movie, they are lying next to each other on a trampoline, exchanging promises to their unborn child. The promises subtly become vows for a wedding that Verona refuses to have because her parents are dead and cannot be there.
I found myself crying when Verona asks, “Do you promise to listen to her, I mean really listen to her?” and “Do you promise to make her fights your fights?”
And then I laughed hysterically when Burt counters with his request that should he die a boring death, that she should lie to their child and say that he died fighting Russian soldiers to save the lives of 850 Chechen orphans.
That’s why I love this movie so much. It is incredibly emotionally affecting while still being genuinely, uniquely funny. The humour runs from subtle and delicate to broad and guffaw-worthy. The moments of real, human pain never feel forced or manipulative. The characters are original and likeable and flawed. It pulls you in without letting you down in any way.
It’s proof that there really are good writers out there, somewhere, working to bring stories that are worth investing in (in all senses of the term).
Of course, “Terminator: Salvation,” “Death Warrior,” and “Silent Night, Deadly Night” come out on DVD this week. Maybe I should follow the glowing trail of my newfound faith in films and give them all a shot.
Well, maybe not “Terminator.”