There’s a moment in Away We Go when pregnant Verona (Rudolph) remembers how her own mother was 25 when she had her. In another scene, she asks boyfriend Burt: “Are we fuck-ups?” Burt and Verona are the archetypal Generation X parents-to-be – for starters, they’re older. They live in a ramshackle house with no heating, their support network has vanished as Burt’s parents are moving to Belgium, and they need to figure out where and how they want to live.
A series of vignettes takes the couple to a handful of places where they already know people – Phoenix, Tucson, Montreal – in the hope of finding friendship and a sense of home. They can live anywhere they want, but they don’t have the confidence to just stick pins in a map. They want anchors. What they find is a ramshackle assortment of parents, such as jovial but foul-mouthed alcoholic Lily (Janney), who likes to talk about her droopy boobs and her daughter’s “dyke look” at the top of her voice. Gyllenhaal is hilarious as LN (changed from Ellen), a hippie earth mother from hell. She’s the kind of person who breastfeeds other people’s children without permission and doesn’t believe in separation from her kids, or strollers. In fact, there’s an unexpected moment of hilarious physical comedy centred on a pushchair, and it’s funny even if you think LN’s right about them.
Then there are the less obnoxious, more conflicted people they meet, such as Munch (Lynskey), who’s amassed a Brangelina-esque collection of adopted kids but keeps miscarrying, and Burt’s brother Courtney (Schneider), who wonders if it’s okay to tell his daughter her mum has been murdered, because he doesn’t know how to break the news that she’s left them.
Husband and wife team Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida wrote some real life experience into Away We Go. It’s not clear how much, but they’ve experienced parenthood, and bereavement, though who knows if they’ve ever had a conversation in which someone says: “Well, from what I know of vaginal juices…” The dialogue is at turns sharp, sweet and superbly funny, and while we only see brief and thus one-dimensional snapshots of many of the characters, that’s all we really need to see, because the whole experience is filtered through Burt and Verona’s need to find their own way into parenthood. They’re also genuinely, sweetly in love with each other, with an unspoken, mutual respect that’s not often seen on screen.
Away We Go doesn’t have the layer of snark you might expect from a post-Juno indiewood film, and that’s no bad thing. It’s sweet, funny and heart-tugging. It only falls down when it tries to come up with an ending, because there’s no big reveal or denouement here – life just carries on.