Burt and Verona make a good couple, but together, they're not great at all those details other adults seem to have worked out.
Goofy Burt (John Krasinski, "Leatherheads," TV's "The Office") never finished college and now works in insurance " a job he largely conducts from the phone, where he changes his voice and pretends to be a guy's guy, interested in his clients' sports teams and such.
Ever-patient Verona (Maya Rudolph, "Shrek the Third," TV's "Saturday Night Live") is generally amused by her boyfriend and all his quirks, misused vocabulary, etc., and works from home, illustrating gory scientific diagrams of surgeries.
The pair lives in a generally cramped and messy, cabin-like house, complete with a cardboard window and ratty furniture. It might have been fine for the two of them, but now that Verona is pregnant, it barely feels like a home. With a new perspective, she realizes they have been living in a suspended animation, never adopting the skills necessary to succeed at simply living.
When the couple learns that Burt's parents (Jeff Daniels, "State of Play," and Catherine O'Hara, "For Your Consideration") are planning a move to Belgium, Verona realizes the two have no connection or attachment to their life. It sounds depressing (it looks even more so), but she is convinced it's an opportunity to find a new life and a real home elsewhere.
Without any real friends to speak of, they buy tickets for three cities where they at least have some loose personal connections " old buddies, cousins and such " and audition a trio of new cities as potential new homes.
Landing in Phoenix, the two meet up with a former co-worker of Verona's, Lily (Allison Janney, "Juno"), a too-much-sun and too-many-cocktails loudmouth who spends her days needling her husband (Jim Gaffigan, "17 Again") and insulting her two chubby children.
The two then fly up to Madison, Wis., and meet up with Burt's cousin, Ellen (Maggie Gyllenhaal, "The Dark Knight"), who now goes by the more poetic moniker of "LN." She is a hippie, New Age, Earth-mother type, a women's studies professor who breast-feeds her friend's children.
In Montreal, we meet Tom and Munch Garnett (Chris Messina, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," and Melanie Lynskey, TV's "Two and a Half Men"), a happy, attractive and fun-loving couple with a warm home and a colorful brood of well adjusted, adopted children. Underneath the Garnetts' happy veneer is a deep sadness that underscores a dysfunction that makes Tom's charm and Munch's awkward silences immensely tragic.
"Away We Go" gets better with each of its vignettes. Gyllenhaal is hilarious and turns in the most memorable performance. With only a few scenes, her comedic delivery and timing balances much of the movie's moody aesthetic. But Messina and Lynskey are most effective at conveying the arc of the film, particularly Lynskey, who is subtly troubled and uncomfortable. With little dialogue, she skillfully conveys a truly upsetting character.
Rudolph plays things pretty straight and, surprisingly, it suits her. Her character's backstory carries the arc, although not obviously, which is appealing and more interesting when buried beneath the surface. Krasinski carries most of gags and the film's physical comedy, but he's restrained and pleasantly less self-aware than the Jim-from-"The Office" character he reprised in "License to Wed" and "Leatherheads."
Vendela Vida and Dave Eggers wrote great characters for director Sam Mendes ("Revolutionary Road," "Jarhead"), who teased out similar quiet tragedy in 1999's "American Beauty."
"Away We Go" is pointed, nuanced and clever " a wonderful road-trip flick about grown-ups struggling with expectations and adulthood."Joe Wertz