This is one of those films that you’ve been walking past at the DVD store for about a year, and every time you almost get it out, but you always end up finding something else instead.
Well I finally got it out, and I’m going to tell you about it. However, I should point out that this woman wrote a really good, fancy review of it that is really smart, so you should probably just read hers instead.
So straight away this film had two things going for it: rad cover art and John Krasinski. John Krasinski (aka “that cute guy from the Office) has a great smile – I mean a great smile – and has the advantage of playing lovely guys. Advantageous in that he does it well, and it makes him lovable. He’s so lovable. Also his last name isn’t as tricky to spell as you think – just sound it out: kra-sin-ski. Neat.
Maya Rudolph is also pretty stunning, but previously I’ve only seen her as the bride in Bridesmaids (2011)
The film has a pretty rad opening scene. I say “rad” – it could so easily have not been. It opens with a sexual scene which shocked my conservative self (I know, I know – that’s not hard), however the fact that I’d completely fallen in love with the couple anyway after the first minute just shows what great writing and acting this film has.
So our two heroes Verona and Burt are a young couple very much in love, who find out that they’re having a baby. Six months later their world is altered when Burt’s parents, their only family nearby, move away. They realise that they’re alone at a critical juncture in their lives and are free to do whatever and go wherever they want. Only they don’t know what they want. They’re at that stage of self-doubt that we’ve all felt before (and will again) and question who they are and what they’re doing with their lives.
Verona: Burt, are we fuck-ups?
Burt: No! What do you mean?
V: I mean, we’re 34-
V: -and we don’t even have this basic stuff figured out.
B: Basic, like how?
V: Basic, like how to live.
B: We’re not fuck-ups.
V: We have a cardboard window.
B: We’re not fuck-ups.
V: …I think we might be fuck-ups.
B: We’re not fuck-ups.
So they decide to take a trip and visit various family and friends in different cities – Phoenix, Tucson, Montreal, Miami – and then decide where they’d like to settle. So they set out and in each place visit different families with varying degrees of eccentricity. In each place bar one they visit friend/s with children and they experience different ideas of what constitutes “family” – and what constitutes “parenting”!
Maggie Gyllenhaal does hilariously well as an old friend with two kids who is a “new age-y” mum who believes in parenting without “the three S’s”: Separation, Sugar and Strollers (“why would I want to push my baby away from me?!”)
Each place they visit – heralded in the film by bold titles, e.g. “AWAY TO PHOENIX” – is like a separate vignette and while the scenes with Gyllenhaal are almost farcical, many do deal with real challenges relating to life, relationships and parenting.
Personally I really enjoyed the way the film dealt with the journey (not just geographical) of Verona and Burt in a way that showed real emotions that were sometimes softened by and sometimes sharpened by humour. Humour which was at times sombre, silly, wry, sweet, dark, and just snort-out-loud funny (yes, I ‘lol’ed. Or ‘sol’ed?)
Something which bugged me about the film was also partly my favourite thing: Burt is just so damn great. He’s like the perfect guy. I mean, he’s got annoying habits, but that just highlights how perfect he is the rest of the time. Perfect for Verona. He loves her and genuinely wants to please here. He doesn’t say the right thing all the time, but he gets a lot closer than any other guy I’ve met! As Katrina Onstad notes, “Much of the film consists of Burt and Verona side by side, reacting to the absurdity around them.” Burt seems perfect because he’s perfect for Verona. Just like she is for him. They’re a real unit in this film.
Her name isn’t the only awesome thing about Verona, either. She’s really well-rounded (no pun intended) and you see her insecure side as well as her fun one. I like that she’s so comfortable and familiar with Burt that she doesn’t fall for his charms, she still gets mad at him and grumpy about stuff. She’s not self-conscious because she knows he loves her. That sounds cheesy ay? I can’t explain it very well. As a character she does being pregnant really well, in that we see her living her life like real pregnant people do, not just sitting around “being pregnant”. She’s still herself and she’s still living her life and making decisions. Like John Krasinski said in an interview,
…the coolest part about the movie is that it’s not a pregnancy movie. Us getting pregnant is just the catalyst to us, basically, taking another look at our lives and being like: Oh, wait, are we ready? Are we good people? Have we done all of the things we want to do?
Isn’t that sexy? “Us getting pregnant”. I think that’s awesome. Because that’s what it’s like in the film, as a couple they’re having a baby, so it’s a very “us” feeling. In that way it’s a very self-involved film. But isn’t that how life is? Onstad wrote
Rudolph’s stern demeanour suggests a woman adept at keeping her emotional life in check. Krasinski is her warmer foil, and the two are believably familiar together. They also look sort of normal; not artfully normal, but normal, which feels radical somehow in an American love story.
I think that’s it – they really do feel totally familiar and normal. The acting is superb and I think the styling is the icing on the cake in terms of creating great, real characters. They’re that cool couple that you wanna be friends with. They’re funny and stable and normal. But you’re also kind of envious of them, because their closeness and stability is kind of rare, too.
I think this film portrays my ideal relationship, one which is self-reliant and self-sustaining. I’m not really a social person, I just need that one person and I’m set. That’s the plan, anyway.
So I guess the moral of the story is: if you’re worried you’re screwing your life up, don’t be – everyone else is way worse! Or something like that…
I think this is the kind of movie you’ll either love or hate. If you’re cynical it’s probably soppy hipster drivel, or just plain boring. I thought it was inspired. If there’s a DVD-shaped parcel under my tree this year, I won’t mind if it’s this one.
(And if you’re walking past this DVD at the shop, too – stop, and take it home!)
Director: Sam Mendes
Starring: Maya Rudolph, John Krasinski