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The Birth of a Parent

Parenthood, especially for first-timers, is a bit like suddenly deciding to pack your life into a backpack and set off for a trek across Antarctica. You know it will be a long, arduous journey. It’s pure madness. And, it’s shit-scary. Being a parent means you have to take complete responsibility for someone else – a life is literally in your hands. Despite the numerous books on parenthood that have been written, there is no real answer to the question “How do I not screw this up?”

These questions are explored by director Sam Mendes in the quirky new comedy-drama, Away We Go. When 34-year old Verona (Maya Rudolph) falls pregnant, she and her boyfriend, Burt (John Krasinski), question whether they can be ‘good’ parents. With Burt’s own parents deciding on the spur of the moment to move to Belgium, the couple don’t have the support structure they had counted on, and so, they decide to find a new home. The two embark on a trip across North America, visiting towns and cities where they have family and friends to find a place that’s suitable for raising a child.

Krasinksi (who’s best known for his role as Jim in the US version of the TV series The Office) and Rudolph (also better known on the small screen as a regular on Saturday Night Live), are a breath of fresh air. Their comic timing is impeccable (it could also be that Mendes’ direction is just really good) and their individual performances as part of the kooky couple are compelling. Mendes is experienced in deconstructing everyday relationships in suburban America in film – both American Beauty (1999) and Revolutionary Road (2008) addressed this theme, but in a more cynical manner.

Away We Go
, on the other hand, is fun while lending the necessary gravity to make the story seem real. Moreover, the script allows the characters the freedom to transgress the norm of portraying pregnancy in film using extremes: if the scene of Katherine Heigl giving birth in Knocked Up didn’t leave women (and men) retching, nothing bar Cyclical Vomiting Syndrome (it’s a real disease) will. Away We Go is a more honest, more genuine account of the tumultuous emotional experience of pregnancy for both women and their partners.

At one point, Verona asks Burt, “Are we fuck-ups? … We don’t even have the basic stuff figured out … like how to live.” But, the point is: no one does. As they travel from city to city, Burt and Verona realise that everyone makes mistakes and that all parents fear they’ll irreparably fuck up their children without ever intending to. To use a boring, but apt cliché, parenthood, like life, is a journey – one in which the future is unclear and the decisions you make today can reverberate for years to come. But, you can only try and do your best. As Verona tells Burt, “All we can do is be good for this one baby.” Verona tells Burt towards the end of the film. “We don’t have control over anything else.”

Postscript – Great as it was, the film still didn’t make me want to have children.

Sam Mendes
Cast: John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Maggie Gyllenhaal
Rating: 4 out of 5

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