by Meredith O'Brien
That’s the chief question which haunts the lead characters in the film Away We Go , starring The Office’s John Krasinski and Saturday Night Live’s Maya Rudolph, who play an unmarried, thirtysomething couple about to become first-time parents. They live in a rundown, teeny house in Colorado where Krasinski’s Burt casts wood shavings onto the floor as he whittles next to his tool bench, which just so happens to be located next to their bed. Burt, at least initially, seems to be cluelessly idealistic in his mismatched plaid outfits, heavy beard and shaggy hair. (It’s hard to believe he’s an insurance salesman.) Rudolph’s Verona, on the other hand, seems a bit more grounded as Burt’s live-in lover who refuses to marry him and works from home as a graphic artist specializing in renderings of all things medical.
“I think we might be f--- ups,” Verona says to Burt under cover of the darkness while sitting in bed contemplating their future and whether they’re mature enough to be parents. “We don’t even have this basic stuff figured out yet . . . We have a cardboard window.”
News that Burt’s parents are moving to Belgium shakes the couple to the core. They want to raise their unborn daughter in a place where she’s supported by family and friends. However absent Burt’s parents, who would’ve been the sole grandparents since Verona’s parents are deceased, they’d no longer have any family or close friends in Colorado. Thus Verona and Burt commence the journey that is Away We Go, with the couple seeking the best place in which to lay down roots and raise their child.
They literally go on a voyage which takes them all around North America: To Phoenix where they spend the day with Verona’s former colleague (a hilariously inappropriate Allison Janney who swears profusely in front of her kids while mocking them), to Tucson to see Verona’s sister Grace, to Madison to visit Burt’s childhood friend, to Montreal to visit mutual married college friends and finally to Miami to stay with Burt’s brother and niece. Burt -- the guy who wears bookish glasses and said he wanted his child to have “an epic kind of childhood,” one that’s “Huck Finn-y” -- realizes his naiveté as he and Verona absorb all the myriad situations in which his friends and family are living. Their trip winds up becoming more about figuring out what kind of parents Verona and Burt intend to be in a world filled with parents who are disinterested, emotionally damaging, sanctimoniously judgmental and lost in a fog.
Advice given to them by family and friends didn’t help assuage their fears about being parental “F-ups.”
“They’re screwed up out of the womb. So what? They’ll have cell phones. They’ll be fine,” quipped Janney’s character Lily.
Burt’s childhood friend (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a professor who believes in uber-serious attachment parenting and goes by “LN” instead of “Ellen,” declares that strollers are evil. “I love my babies. Why would I want to push them away from me?” she asks, as she stretches out in the ginormous bed she shares with her two children and her male partner. When Burt and Verona ask if having a family bed impinges on their intimate moments, LN says that having sex in the family bed is the best way to yield a child with a healthy attitude toward sex. “Are you planning on hiding your love-making from your kids?” she asks.
After Verona’s sister compares Verona to their deceased mother while saying she’ll be a great mom, Verona and Burt’s college friend ups the ante by saying that when it comes to being a parent, “You have to be so much better than you ever thought.”
Shaken by what they see as instability and weirdness – parents abandoning children, emotionally abusing them, parents who die, parents who are deeply sad – Burt and Verona seek to make peace with their own idiosyncratic relationship as they settle on a mutually shared vision of the world they’ll create for their unborn daughter. “All we can do is be good for this one baby,” Verona says in a poignant scene on a trampoline in Burt’s brother’s Miami backyard. “We don’t have control over much else.”
Instead of finding the perfect geographical location in which to commence their life as a family, Burt and Verona find that once they figure out what’s important –committing to raising the child together, to listening to her and try to help her be happy – everything else just falls into place.