Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Away We Go

The majority of movies aren’t good. They may be entertaining at times, funny at times, touching at times, insightful at times, clever at times, and even fantastic at certain times, but when it’s all over, when the credits start to role, very few are truly great films. It’s just a sad fact of life.

Examples? Alright, let’s look at Wedding Crashers. The first hour-to-90-minutes of the film are hilarious, gut-busting, and ridiculously clever. Then Owen Wilson falls in love with Rachel McAdams, and the movie becomes rather lame. Started out great, then fizzled. Or you could look at the Transformers films, as well. I like action flicks, and I think both in this series are entertaining, exciting, and well put together…but they are not great movies. Sure it’s fun to ogle at Megan Fox and watch humongous robots slap each other around, but once it ended (either one, really), I didn’t find myself blown away or in complete awe of the cinematic adventure I had just witnessed. It was merely a nice movie. I didn’t want my money back, but I wasn’t calling my grandma to rave about it, either. And yes, the films were certainly successful in terms of box office and public opinion (Wedding Crashers and both Transformers made A LOT of money), but I think you’d be hard pressed to find many people jump at the chance to label them great movies. They were decent, maybe even good – but not great.

It doesn’t stop there. Even those films of Oscar glory and critical acclaim are not impervious to the binds of mediocrity. Lost In Translation, for example, was nominated for five Oscars (and won one of them) amidst raved reviews from critics everywhere. But I have yet to meet a normal movie-watcher, a regular Joe-Schmo like you and me, who even mildly liked (or understood) the movie. Or look at There Will Be Blood, which was nominated for eight Oscars, including Best Picture. I thought Daniel Day-Lewis was fantastic in his role (he won Best Actor), but the movie itself was boring, slow-moving and oddly unfulfilling. Two pictures, highly regarded by experts, and yet they fall short of plainly being great movies. Even two thumbs up and a mini-gold statue don’t necessarily make a good film.

When you do realize how many movies fall short of greatness, it really makes you appreciate the few iconic movies, the ones that will go down in cinema history. Whether it’s those from past decades and generations, such as Gone with the Wind, Citizen Kane, Psycho, Star Wars, The Godfather (I & II) and Animal House, or those great films of recent decades, like Pulp Fiction, Goodfellas, Rocky, Forrest Gump, The Shawshank Redemption, Saving Private Ryan, and No Country for Old Men, you really grasp the idea that cinematic accomplishment is not at all easy to achieve. But is that what we have to wait for? Is it boom or bust? A great movie once or twice a decade surrounded by tons and tons of crap?

No. It might seem like it, but there actually are those movies that are just simply good films. They might not go down in history or get recognized by AFI, but you could watch them today, tomorrow and ten years from now, and they would be just as good, every single time. These types of films (Die Hard, Caddyshack, Jerry Maguire, Roadhouse, Almost Famous, Training Day, Anchorman, Ocean’s 11, Fight Club…and even The Notebook) are the great movies that we need more of. These are the movies we want. These are the movies that TBS, USA and AMC should (and sometimes do) play three or four times a week. They aren’t in abundance, but every so often, they do come along. And now, Away We Go is one of those films.

Starring John Krasinski (from The Office) and Maya Rudolph (from Saturday Night Live), the movie pairs the two together as a young couple basically trying to find their place in the world. Burt and Verona are surprised by a pregnancy, and with a child on the way, they go out looking for the best place to raise it. The journey serves to show them all that is good and bad in the world, as well as with themselves, and that while they may not be perfect, they do share a special bond that few people in this world seem to posses anymore. They learn that being different isn’t a bad thing.

There are a myriad of supporting actors that absolutely nail their roles, including Allison Janney, Jim Gaffigan, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jeff Daniels, and the grossly and chronically underrated Catherine O’Hara. But the real genius is the amazing chemistry between Rudolph and Krasinski. The two young actors, made famous by their comedy chops, showed spectacular range in this film, divulging a complete gauntlet of emotions while also meshing perfectly as a young, struggling, and slightly confused couple. Rudolph manages to be level-headed, vulnerable, and constantly worried, all at once. Krasinski (possible man-crush?) is extremely witty, down-to-earth and care-free, all while desiring nothing more than to give Verona and their new child everything he possibly can, willing to do whatever it takes to make them happy. As good as he is on The Office, he is astronomically better in this movie, showing miles and miles of acting range that I never knew he had. In my mind, an Oscar nominee come this March would not be ridiculous in the least (man-crush confirmed). The two of them fit together better than Jon Gosselin and tabloids, and their performances completely push the movie over the edge of greatness, only leaving us wanting more.

In a time when too many movies are two straight hours of pointless drivel, mediocre acting, and over-priced special effects, Away We Go side-steps everything but success, hitting home on the most authentic emotions and dilemmas facing people today. The film is genuine and sarcastic, clever and obvious, funny and insightful, all at the same time. It’s tear-jerking at times and ridiculous at times, but it is always honest, from start to finish. It avoids being pretentious or condescending by pairing the glaring flaws and inconsistencies in our world today with all of the good and considerate things that often get overlooked. Even the main characters are far from perfect (wondering at one point if they are “f**k-ups”) but are able to shine in the end as a couple willing to stand behind each other and stand up for what they feel is best for their future child.

Director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Revolutionary Road) as well as writers Dave Eggars and Vendela Vida (who are husband and wife) deserve a lot of credit for allowing the film to be great. The movie is able to take the good with the bad, showing us that life isn’t always easy, but it doesn’t always have to be miserable either. And in the end, we learn that it’s never too late to go back home.

Very few movies are good. A select few are historically extraordinary. And then there is that small fraternity of movies, the seemingly overwhelming minority that transcend time, evade mediocrity, and somehow manage to be great films. With Away We Go, that group gets a little bit bigger.

Thanks for reading