September is notorious in the US for being the dumping ground for summer movies that didn't quite make the cut. Second-rate action movies and lame comedies and inspirational hip-hop dance movies starring white people fill it from beginning to end. It truly is a cinematic dead zone. But here in the UK its something different. We get all the high quality smaller movies released earlier in the US not quite big enough too demand an instantaneous release. So just in the last couple of the weeks we've had Adventureland, The Hurt Locker, District 9 and now Away We Go, the latest film from Brit director Sam Mendes.
This is a bit of a change of tack for him, after the awards season's neglecting of his Revolutionary Road, a film built for the sole purpose of awards recognition. Here he makes a smaller movie, a comedy of sorts but not without its more dramatic moments, but its more introspective and more in tone with the only great movie he has made so far, his debut American Beauty. It lacks that films darkness, but not its sense of humor and genuineness and thus Mendes, by lowering the scale of his vision has made his best movie in a while. The plot follows soon to be expecting couple Burt and and Verona ( Why do women in indie comedies always have to have such ridiculous names. Its something I will never understand) who travel the country looking for their new home, and meeting with various eccentric acquaintances and relatives along the way. The film, and all films like this really, lives or dies on the strength of the performances and the chemistry, whatever that word means, between the two leads. And here John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph come through in spades. Rudolph in particular, who I have never seen in a film before and has been most successful on Saturday Night Live, is particularly surprising in how good she is, not only in the comedy but the more serious stuff as well. The role is written slightly aloof but she makes it work. Krasinski, who is now beginning to really break into films on the back of his success in the American version of the Office, which seemingly goes from strength to strength. He is terrificly affable here, in a goof ball role that suits him like a glove.
The supporting cast, although mostly limited to cameos, certainly add something to the mix, as Alison Janney, Chris Messina, Paul Schneider, Catherine O Hara and Jeff Daniels all turn in great performances. My favorite though was probably Maggie Gyllenhaal's ghoulish hippie. I have to say sometimes the film leaned on the eccentricities of the supporting cast too much, and some of them perhaps didn;t work as well as others, but the two central performances were strong enough that the occasionally lazy writing didn't matter. Although to be fair, its a consistently funny and effecting movie, and a step in the right direction for Mendes who it turns out made his best film of the decade when he stopped trying to win an Oscar.