Monday, June 8, 2009

Hilariously Frightening

Sam Mendes' Away We Go is terrifying. It is also hilarious, heart-felt, touching, intelligent, and inspiring.

The story of a newly pregnant couple (John Krasinksi and Maya Rudolph) who travel the country meeting new friends to find the perfect place to start a family was written by Pulitzer Prize Finalist author Dave Eggers and his wife Vendela Vida. The story, originally, came to me as non dramatic while at the same time incredibly tense. And, I suppose, that's what they wanted.

The dramatic structure isn't normal, there's no Act I, II, and III. There's the Instigating Event (the pregnancy) and the Dramatic Question (will they ever find a place to settle down?) but nothing "bad", so to speak, happens. The conflict isn't between Burt and Verona, the two, instead, function as a team in this film. They're conflict never reaches the brink of separation but instead generally revolves around break downs in armor, glimpses of fear, that get rebuilt and blinded beautifully by the other member of the team.

The conflict, instead, is battled on the fields of hopes and dreams. Each new city they go to is greeted with incredible optimism and promise and then gets batted down by those they visit. Every planned trip is foreseen as being incredible but ends up being a vision of what they never want to happen to them, their worst nightmares being lived out by old friends and acquaintances. It's not until an unplanned visit to Miami when Burt's brother's wife leaves him that the two start to find what they were looking for.

Overall this film will forever be held close to my heart. It will never win an Oscar, let alone get nominated for the ones it deserves. But it's unique, lively, and creative story telling is something that will not be surpassed for a very long, long time. Or, at least, until Eggers comes out with another film.

"You have to be better than you ever thought you could be."
--Away We Go

The Kid In Me

Up is Pixar's best. And that's saying something.

This film tells the extraordinary tale of Carl Frederickson and Russel. Carl ties thousands of balloons together and escapes to Paradise Falls instead of spending the rest of his years in a retirement home. Accidentally joining him is Russel, a Boy Scout trying to get the one badge he doesn't have: Elderly Assistance.

The two of them meet up with Kevin, the large, goofy, loveable bird who is unable to fly and just wants to feed her kids (yes, it's a girl bird named Kevin). They also meet up with Doug, the dog with a talking collar who is supposed to track and capture Kevin but, being the black sheep of the slew of dogs living in the area, decides instead to help his new found owners and friends. The four of them make together create a hilarious team.

The jokes themselves are juvenile and silly, baring no serious thought nor satirical depth, they are perfectly timed slapstick comic relief. This is hard to achieve with animation but is done expertly in this film. That's also the only "kid" part to this "kid" movie.

At the core of this film are issues of love, loss, grief, letting go, and getting by. All of which are dealt with during the first twenty minutes of the film (which could be given it's own Oscar for Best Picture). Carl has to get over the loss of his wife and the "old, simple way". He needs to get over the dreams that he has held onto since he was a small child and move onto things that give him his own meaning. Due to a miscarriage from his wife, who passed before he did, he has had no children and, therefore, is left all alone; causing his late-life crisis. Fortunately, Russel provides the perfect companion. Russel not only needs his Elderly Assistance badge but also a father-figure as he deals with the frighteningly popular issues of today's children: a father who is never there and a step-mom who he doesn't trust enough to call Mom. Thereby giving Carl the chance to get meaning by giving meaning. Doug and Kevin also have their ambitions: Doug, being the only retriever in a group of guard and attack dogs, is goofy and kind. He doesn't fit in with the rest of the litter and knows it. He wants out and finds Carl and Russel. Kevin just wants to live peacefully in Paradise and raise her kids but the group of dogs is trying to hunt Kevin. We quickly grow to love Doug and Kevin and root for them just as much as we root for Carl.

All in all this review can't do justice to Up. The fullness of character as well as the creativity and execution of the story are beyond comparison to any film that came out this year, let alone this summer. Another instant classic from Pixar.