I saw the charming movie Away We Go a few weeks ago and fell absolutely in love with it. In my humble opinion, it was a perfect little movie: simultaneously funny and touching, with a creative and interesting plot featuring complex and lovable characters. It was a well-written and well-executed film that wasn’t pretentious.
I was very disappointed to find that many critics didn’t agree.
As I always do when I see a great -or horribly awful- movie, I came home after the screening and looked up the New York Times review. To my horror, movie critic A.O. Scott described my beloved main characters, happily unmarried couple Verona and Burt, as smug and condescending. Early in the film, pregnant Verona (played by Maya Rudolph of SNL fame) asks her longtime, live-in boyfriend Burt (played by John Krasinski), “Are we screw-ups?” Critic Scott concluded that this question is irrelevant because the film continually asserts that not only are the characters not screw-ups, but they “are manifestly superior to everyone else in the movie and, by implication, the world.” Scott continued, “And even though they express themselves with a measure of diffidence, it’s clear that they are acutely, at times painfully, aware of their special status as uniquely sensitive, caring, smart and cool beings on a planet full of cretins and failures.”
The way Burt and Verona are described in that review, you’d expect them to be pretentious assholes who think they’re above anyone else. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Throughout the film, I got the impression that Burt, an insurance salesman who didn’t finish college, and Verona, a medical illustrator, are often uncertain if their achievements and their lifestyle is adequate and appropriate in comparison to other adults. That’s one reason why they go on an adventure across North America, to find their new home and figure their lives out. They are also very down-to-earth, tolerating many obnoxious characters.
And speaking of these obnoxious characters, what’s so wrong if Burt and Verona are superior to them? Characters like Burt and Verona make rare appearances in movies: they are thoughtful, tender, loving, easygoing and artistic people who are not neurotic. Compared to Burt’s parents, who selfishly plan a move to Belgium just as their future granddaughter is being born, Lily, Verona’s vulgar former boss who berates her dysfunctional family, and Burt’s childhood friend L N (formerly known as Ellen), a New Age gender studies professor with a strong aversion to strollers, Burt and Verona are superior. And what’s the harm in that? Those obnoxious characters provided the most humorous and enjoyable sequences of the movie and that was their purpose. This is a comedy after all.
Though I laughed frequently throughout the movie, I also teared up several times. I was touched by the sincereity of Burt and Verona’s loving relationship; Rudolph and Krasinski had a wonderful on-screen chemistry that felt very genuine. Their characters’ interactions, including the opening sequence of passionless oral sex, also felt very real.
Critics can often be too cynical and I think that’s the cause of this film’s undeserving lukewarm reviews. If you’re looking to see a feel-good movie that will make you laugh, Away We Go is the best option I’ve seen this summer.