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Home Sweet Somewhere: <b>Away We Go</b>

In Away We Go, Sam Mendes gets out of the suburbs and takes us on an American roadtrip. A terrific cast—including the dynamic Allison Janney—brings Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida's first screenplay to vivid life.


Where to build a home and raise a family is the central question of  the new roadtrip film, Away We Go. Directed by Sam Mendes, the film is a funny and wry chaser after his previous grim visions of suburbia (American Beauty, last year's failed Oscar-bait Revolutionary Road), with two likable central characters, Burt (The Office's John Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph, far away from her Saturday Night Live roots) who are at a turning point in their lives.

Because Burt and Verona had a plan. With a baby on the way and Verona plumply, roundly pregnant, they were going to live in a shack in Colorado nearby Burt's parents. When Burt's parents (Catherine O'Hara and Jeff Daniels) decide to run off to Antwerp, Belgium, pending grandchild or no pending grandchild, it puts our heroes' current life in stark relief—cardboard window, the possibility of being a "fuckup"—so they journey across America to find the right place to become parents. Reconnecting with friends and siblings in Arizona, Wisconsin, Florida, and Canada, (played by a multitude of wonderful actors, including Allison Janney, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Paul Schneider) Mendes takes us through scenes funny, horrific, and tragic, as each pit stop has a different approach to the notion of parenthood.

The movie is the first screenplay by writers Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, and if you're versed in either writer's work, there are some familiar tropes: absent parents, man-child types with babies, the dissassociation of travel as a way to find yourself. Mendes is faithful to the writers' voice, and it pays off for the film: it's utterly modern, following a couple who are dealing with very real worries that are seldom adressed in film: How do you make a home? What constitutes good parenting? And the most important question of all, uttered by Verona at the movie's start: "Are we fuckups?"

For three actors who call New York their home, working on Away We Go was a chance to explore a script with striking honesty, which was cited by all three in recent interviews. The lovely (and surprisingly British) Carmen Ejogo (who's been a Brooklynite for the past eight years), plays Vendela's sister Grace, who they visit in Tucson, Arizona. "I was not hired to be the comedian on this one," she laughs, saying that Krasinski made her laugh so hard that her makeup was ruined. "I did this movie because I am the person that lends this movie some of its more emotional weight. The kind of moments that we [Ejogo and Rudolph] had, they're about something that has a lot of gravity and brevity and weight. [It sends it] in a different direction." The two actresses make a striking pair of sisters, and Mendes' rehearsal process brought them together as a family: "We figured out a lot of backstory. Sam was smart in figuring out there was just a shared energy between us."

Ejogo could relate to the film's central search for home, "that way of feeling displaced and not knowing where home should be. To be here [in America] in 2001 was a really testing time, but then we crossed the bridge and went from Manhattan to Brooklyn, and then you have two kids..." and she's a New Yorker now.

AWG For Allison Janney (currently on Broadway—"Working with Dolly Parton, that's just crazy! To be in her presence every day."—in her Tony-nominated role in 9 to 5 The Musical) and her onscreen husband, comedian and star of TBS' My Boys, Jim Gaffigan, it meant sweating in the hot Arizona sun at a dog park for the film. Gaffigan says, "There is something about my character and Allison's. [They play Lily and Lowell, a married couple in Phoenix.] I'm from the Midwest and there's this kind of Midwestern dad who's emotionally absent with a streak of paranoia. And they're holding the Miller Lite and in this bubble to deal with the chattering wife. I think there's something almost tragic in this honesty. It's like yeah, we all know THAT couple."

Despite the fact that their scene is simultaneously funny and desperately sad, Janney found something to relate to in Lily: "She thinks she's the funniest person on the planet. As far as Lily's concerned, she should've been a stand-up comedian. Tragic. I think it's her unhappiness that I relate to, the parts that make her sad, the parts that make her human, no matter what she covers it up with."

The role of Lily is broad (and there's a reason Janney's prominently featured in the preview), and Janney credits Mendes' work for letting her "go out on a limb. He encouraged me to be bigger. I hope I can be a part of his acting troupe." Already a fan of Eggers, the actress was struck by the wisdom of the script. Although she has a different title for it: "I thought it should be called Anywhere You Go, There You Are. That's one of the hardest lessons to learn, to be at peace with where you are. Your home is where you are."

Away We Go
opens in theaters this Friday. Click here for ticket information.


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