Over the past decade, Sam Mendes has done our little British Island proud, breaking out of the doldrums of the UK industry to establish himself as a top Hollywood auteur just below the par of dear old Hitchcock. From American Beauty (1999) through to Revolutionary Road (2008), Mendes has lifted the curtain on America to expose the hidden darkness underneath, which is why his latest effort is so peculiarly out of sync; a feel-good indie drama as far removed from Jarhead (2005) as you’re likely to get.
As premises go it is hardly the most riveting of concepts as an unmarried couple awaiting the birth of their baby travel around America on some existential quest to find the solution to whatever it is that is actually troubling them. Not that I have any idea what that is and neither it would seem do the cast. Apparently it is acceptable for the stars of indie films to moan about their lives without anything actually being inherently wrong with them, save for a lower class minimum wage which nevertheless is more than adequate in funding a cross country road trip.
Actually, the lack of direction is not its most grating aspect; what really frustrates me about Away We Go is the way it encourages the persistent falsehood that indie is not a financial term, but a genre. The “quirky” idiosyncrasies of impotent un-comedies such as Juno (2007) strive to be messianic in their defiance against the system, but their contrivances are so apparent that they have inadvertently become the most formulaic fictions in recent cinema. Away We Go runs like an indie-by-numbers, complete with trampy liberal leads, stagnant folk music and the kind of humourless material that only attracts fits of giggles from female crowds who find references to female genitalia the height of licentious hilarity: “Haha he said vagina and we have one, so it’s funny!”
Not that it is a total washout. Away We Go is pleasant enough and it certainly isn’t a bad film, it’s just not a very good one. Mendes shows scant regard for visual flare while the camerawork is often static and uneventful. It isn’t helped by a meandering plot which declares each new destination in bold capitals as if in some desperate attempt to interject excitement into a prosaic, conveyor belt-like journey through friends and family, all of which only helps to accentuate the episodic structure. It seems that for his next project, Mr Mendes will have to make a decision regarding whether he wants to make a happy film, or a good one.