Saturday 26 September 2009

Away we go to Monday Night Film Club

It's been far too long since the last instalment of Monday Night Film Club and my last visit to the Cameo, or, indeed, any other cinema. But the festival will do that.

Owing to the club's founder's other commitments, I wasn't expecting another visit for a little while, but was pleasantly surprised a week last Monday to get a text message to the contrary, just as I was about to roll up my sleeves for some overtime. Needless to say, Away We Go, the new Sam Mendes film was a much more attractive proposition.

The first thing that struck me about the film is that it's funny, often extremely funny, the scene with the pushchair especially. Of course, we know Mendes can do light-hearted. There are, after all, some exceptional comic moments in America Beauty. Indeed, generally I think that's a much more positive film than most other people seem to. But after some of his recent films (Revolutionary Road anyone?) it isn't the first thing you expect.

The story follows Burt and Verona (superb performances from John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph) as a thirty-something couple about to have a child. John's parents decide to head to Europe, despite their having relocated to be near them with a view to having help raising their child. They soon realise this means they can move anyway and go anywhere they like. Cue road, or rather, road, rail and air trip across America and Canada, during the course of which they meet a rather disturbing series of friends and acquaintances.

Alison Janney, playing a former colleague of Maya's, and a thoroughly dysfunctional mother who constantly insults her children, since it's "all white noise to them", is first up. It's always nice to see West Wing alumni and she delivers a great comic performance.

The supporting cast is superb in general, especially Maggie Gyllenhaal's LN (not Ellen), a new age hippie type with an abhorrence for pushchairs "why would I want to push my child away". That said, they do tend towards caricature and the question of how they ended up with this mess of friends (raised by the Scotsman, in a generally unkind review) is a fair one.

As the film progresses, the encounters become more poigniant and less funny, but this doesn't really matter. Indeed, it is arguably a good thing as it does much to give the film its charming and uplifting feel. In the end, it doesn't really matter where they end up, that isn't what's important, and I would argue it might be better if we hadn't found out.

The film was followed by a live hook-up to a London cinema where Mendes was present for a Q&A session. This was interesting to the see, particularly learning that he went straight from Revolutionary Road to this. We also learnt that co-author Dave Eggers (who wrote it with his partner Vendela Vida) was previously responsible for the novel A Heartbreaking work of Staggering Genius, so not a man with any ego problems then. One can't help wondering if the title was selected just so people would introduce him as "the author of....".

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