It must have had great word-of-mouth. The movies we go to usually aren't sellouts, but we were lucky we bought our tickets online. Otherwise we would never have made it into the sold-out 7:15 showing Saturday night at Sundance Cinemas Madison. We enjoyed it, the public mostly liked it, Roger loved it, The Onion liked it -- but many critics absolutely hated it.
"Away We Go" belongs to that tiny genre of movies that also includes David O. Russell's 1996 screwball classic, "Flirting with Disaster," in which a young couple copes with the anxieties that come with getting ready to become parents by undertaking a road trip on the flimsiest of pretexts. In "Flirting with Disaster," the adopted Ben Stiller is trying to find his birth parents so he'll know what genetic heritage he's passing on. In "Away We Go," John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph are looking for a place to make a home for their child. The former is wackier and more surreal. "Away We Go" begins with some wonderfully cutting social satire but goes on to conclude with real depth of feeling. Maya Rudolph's performance is amazing.
The website Metacritic.com is an aggregator that's great for getting a snapshot of critical opinion by assigning numerical values to critics' review (and moviegoers' comments) -- an imperfect, subjective process, but it's good at capturing patterns. In this case, the public seems to like the movie much more than the critics, judging from the average score, a mediocre 57. But this isn't one of those homogeneous responses in which most critics share the same lukewarm critical reaction. This is one of those movies that people either like a lot or dislike a lot. There's no real middle ground, except for the misleading numerical average.
Many of the critics who disliked the movie didn't seem to be reviewing the movie at all. They misrepresented the protagonists as slackers and anti-social narcissists. They interpreted social comedy as mean-spiritedness. They scarcely talked about the performances. Instead, they seemed to be settling scores with the movie's creators -- director Sam Mendes and screenwriters Dave Eggers and his wife Vendela Vida, accusing the former of being a snotty foreigner and the latter two of being solipsistic slackers. Knocking the movie was their way of attacking one or another, or all, of its creators. It seemed to be a relexive, emotional response.
Hard to tell what triggered such fury, but the NYT's A.O. Scott was typical. The normally even-tempered reviewer became spiteful and nasty.
To observe that they inhabit no recognizable American social reality is only to say that this is a film by Sam Mendes, a literary tourist from Britain who has missed the point every time he has crossed the ocean. The vague, secondhand ideas about the blight of the suburbs that sloshed around “American Beauty” and “Revolutionary Road” are now complemented by an equally incoherent set of notions about the open road, the pioneer spirit, the idealism of youth.The reviewers who liked the film also seemed to be participating in a referendum about is creators. In a rare swipe at another critic, Roger Ebert referenced Scott's words in his own conclusion.
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But you should also understand that you are not welcome. Does it sound as if I hate this movie? Don’t be silly. But don’t be fooled. This movie does not like you.
I submit that Eggers and Vida are admirable people. If their characters find they are superior to many people, well, maybe they are. “This movie does not like you,” sniffs Tony Scott of the New York Times. Perhaps with good reason.