ICYMI: Away We Go (2009)
For many, the American adaptation of The Office is most notable for the star it made of Steve Carell. For the series’ first seven years, Carell’s take on Michael Scott brought “uncomfortable comedy” to new heights and reinvigorated the phrase, “That’s What She Said.” It also led to a promising film career with box office success in films like The 40 Year Old Virgin, Get Smart and The Big Short, as well as a much deserved Oscar nomination for his powerfully subtle performance in Foxcatcher. But for me, watching The Office (especially via frequent re-runs) is all about the evolution of Jim Halpert via the gifted work of John Krasinski.
On paper, Jim Halpert was a wise guy slacker who spent the majority of his monotonous existence playing hilarious practical jokes and romantically pining for his best friend. Over time, we watched Jim mature, fall in love with said best friend, get married, become a father and eventually find his dream job. Watching Krasinski in this role meant watching an actor mature before our eyes as he honed his comedic skills and developed surprising dramatic gravitas. Based on interviews, it may be hard to see where Jim Halpert ends and John Krasinski begins, but I’m sure there are many more layers to discover. After all, he is now a burgeoning filmmaker responsible for the soon-to-be horror classic, A Quiet Place.
2009’s Away We Go gave us a surprising glimpse into the kind of mature and insightful work that the ex-Jim Halpert is capable of. Playing opposite an equally surprising, mature and insightful Maya Rudolph (her most impressive non-SNL work), the two are key in helping to bring Oscar-winner Sam Mendes’ vision of a modern day “road trip” film to life with heart, compassion, and more than a few laughs.
As the film starts, Rudolph learns she is pregnant with the couple’s first child. After learning that Krasinki’s parents (played wonderfully droll by Jeff Daniels and Catherine O’Hara) are moving out of the country, they realize they need to find a new home and the “perfect place” to raise their child. A road trip of sorts ensues (mostly travelling by plane), visiting an assortment of old friends, former co-workers and distant family. These stops include a who’s who of notable actors and personalities:
Allison Janney and Jim Gaffigan – As a former co-worker of Rudolph, Janney goes “all out” as the kind of loud-mouthed personality that drinks too much and publicly ridicules her own children, while Gaffigan plays along and has no desire to welcome anyone into what must be a personal hell of an existence.
Maggie Gyllenhaal and Josh Hamilton – Gyllenhaal plays a childhood friend of Krasinski who has no boundaries and lives a truly privileged existence thanks to Hamilton, her trust-fund beau. From their pseudo-intellectual superiority to their “communal bed,” watching Krasinski one-up them with a stroller is a comedic gem of a scene.
Melanie Lynskey and Chris Messina – As the seemingly most attractive option in the film, Lynskey and Messina are pitch perfect as a couple living the “good life” as it were, filled to the brim with adopted children and a deep pain that echoes with the expecting parents.
Carmen Ejogo – As Rudolph’s sister, Ejogo echoes the desire of these new parents to have actual family in their changing lives. But we also peer into the pain these orphaned sisters feel, not being able to share any of their impending joys with parents lost long ago.
In the end, Krasinski and Rudolph do find what they hope to be “home.” Not surprisingly, it’s not too far from where they started - but that’s not the point of Away We Go. It’s about watching a couple mature before our eyes, as well as the actors that play them. The chemistry of Krasinski and Rudolph couldn’t be more perfect if it was created in a lab.
As carefully crafted by screenwriters by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, this couple is far from perfect. We watch as they bicker and take pleasure in the small annoyances that long time partners sometimes revel in. We see them realize that sometimes you just outgrow people in your life. And we know without doubt, that though the road ahead may be rocky, these two may be perfect enough to survive and endure.
Away We Go sneaks up on you. You think you’re watching some “indie flick of the week” full of edginess, hipster pretensions, and “road trip” film conventions. Instead, you see a film made with care by all involved, full of all of the messiness that is life and delight as it slowly transforms into a great modern love story. Not bad for a guy from The Office and a girl from SNL.