An attempt to tell a simple story about a nice young couple who are slightly at sea in ‘today’s crazy modern world’, this comes across as a smug and ultimately rather dull slice of faux-indie.
So saccharine is the end result that it is hard to see how its producer and director, Sam Mendes, could be the same guy who last year made the superbly taut, brilliantly shot and provocative ‘Revolutionary Road’. But he is.
Burt (Krasinski) and Verona (Rudolph) are rumpled thirtysomethings who are about to become parents for the first time. Living slightly discontentedly in a slightly dishevelled lakeside house, the series of minor issues with slightly annoying other people around which this film is structured begin with a visit to Burt’s parents, Gloria and Jerry (O'Hara and Daniels).
Self-obsessed retirees, they reveal plans to take a two-year trip to Belgium, starting a month before the baby is due. Mildly put out by this, Burt and Verona decide to take a road trip to find somewhere better to live.
First up, they visit Verona’s former boss Lily (Janney), a hugely entertaining, hyperactive, frustrated alcoholic security-mom gone wrong. Janney steals the scene and, essentially, the entire film. Nothing that follows quite matches up.
A visit to Verona’s sister Grace (Ejogu) adds a little depth to Verona’s back story but fails to inject much needed momentum.
An attempt to inject a dose of same falls flat on the next trip, a visit to Burt’s childhood friend Ellen (Gyllenhaal) and her emasculated partner Roderick (Hamilton). Playing an uber-feminist academic now styling herself "LN", Gyllenhaal hams it up. Very badly.
Mendes also puts in his weakest shift of the film, badly botching the direction of a scene involving an escalating argument over dinner between the travelling couple and the uber-liberals to the point that, like much of this film, it barely makes sense.
The slightly discontented couple head to Canada next to visit old college friends Tom and Munch (a woman) next. ‘America Junior’ yet again, proves itself superior to the US in a plethora of ways, at least in the eyes of screenwriters Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida. In their eyes, Canada is a utopia which offers both boozy fun and a family friendly atmosphere. Perfect. As an aside, Mendes directs another cringeworthily poor scene involving children of which 'poorly shot mush' is about the kindest verdict possible.
Should Burt and Verona stay? They are tempted, but they don’t get the chance to decide after Burt’s brother calls and reveals his wife has left both him and their daughter, an event which ratchets Burt and Verona’s ongoing narcissistic debate on the nature of commitment, relations etc to a new level before the story wends to a predictable conclusion.
Aside from the drama-less story, the leads, or at least the male half of the leads, also present a problem. John Krasinski's Burt is intended to be nerdily-bumbling but cute but instead comes across as a twee and eventually infuriating character. Lesson: near flawless goody-goody types lack charisma on screen, even if they have thick glasses or their hair is tousled.
Opposite him, Maya Rudolph puts in a very attractive and involving performance, though at times even she is defeated by the lack of momentum and dull as ditchwater dialogue.
This is a film in which every virtually character bar the leads essentially acts as a straw man to be mercilessly and predictably hacked to pieces by their perfectly imperfect indie ‘charm’.
Which makes it boring and rather irritating to watch.