by Brendan Wahl
John Krasinski as…Burt Farlander
Maya Rudolph as…Verona De Tessant
Allison Janney as…Lily
Maggie Gyllenhaal as…LN Fisher-Herrin
Every now and then I take a chance and grab a couple DVDs that look intriguing to me or that I’ve heard good word of mouth about or even ones that have a solid rating over on IMDB. This one looked mighty interesting to me. It starred the underrated John Krasinski, Saturday Night Live alum Maya Rudolph, and directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition). So about five or six months ago, I picked it up not knowing what to expect. Tonight, I sat down to watch it.
The first thing one should know about this film is that despite the fact that it does not represent The Office or Saturday Night Live in regards to its general tone, it is most certainly still a comedy. Well, let’s call it a dramedy at least. It reminds me somewhat of movies like Lost in Translation or Broken Flowers as those are both dry, witty comedies (that both star Bill Murray, go fig).
The plot is pretty straight-forward. A couple in their early thirties, Bert (Krasinski) and Verona (Rudolph) find out that they will be having a baby and prepare to tell the good news to Bert’s parents since Verona’s are long since deceased. After finding out from his mother (Catherine O’Hara) and father (Jeff Daniels) that they are moving to Belgium, the young couple decide that there is no reason for them to live in Denver anymore and decide to go on the road to find their new home all the while running into various colourful characters along the way.
The film plays out like an ensemble piece, but really the main characters throughout the entire movie are Bert and Verona and the focus lies on their intriguing relationship.
Not many details of the film can be released here without giving too much away, but the acting in the movie is definitely its strongest point. Krasinski gives a layered dramatic performance and even though his comical moments reminded me a lot of a certain employee of Dunder Mifflin, it definitely works for this character and gives him an extra dimension and layer of humanity.
I have never been a fan of Maya Rudolph on Saturday Night Live (I liked when she did Donatella Versace and that’s about it) so she surprised me the most here. She underplays her role for the most part and delivers a solid performance. Her part involves less comedy than Krasinski’s and she manages to hold up her end of the dramatic baggage with aplomb.
The supporting characters are also fun. We get Catherine O’Hara and Jeff Daniels as Bert’s parents, two actors who can always shine in even the smallest of parts. Stand-up comic Jim Gaffigan shows up in a bit role as Verona’s sister’s husband and provides some laughs, but ultimately there are two actresses in this film who stand out among all the bit players. Allison Janney and Maggie Gyllenhaal.
I’m not really familiar with Janney’s work, but she excels here playing an out-of-control mother who is admittedly “a little crazy” and drives her negative husband (Gaffigan) quietly insane. It’s a role that requires a certain madcap energy and for people to like her and yet hate her at the same time. Janney pulls this off wonderfully and despite laughing at pretty much anything she said, I also wanted to strangle her too.
Maggie Gyllenhaal is very different from that character and plays a mother who has taken a more obscure route with her children. Swearing off strollers (because it “pushes the child away”, you see) LN (Gyllenhaal) revolts at the sight of a this object of separation when it is given as a gift to her from Bert and Verona. The entire sequence of our two main characters in LN’s home is probably the best (and funniest) piece of the whole movie, especially when Bert is able to get some sort of comeuppance.
This is not to take away from the writing or directing in any way. Mendes is a tremendously gifted director who knows how to work with ensemble casts quite well and Dave Eggers & Vendela Vida have crafted a wonderful script — full of wit, charm, and most importantly…humanity. Is that so much to ask in a movie like this?