Sam Mendes has returned to his theatrical themes of human relationships with uneven results.
Away We Go
It seems that American Beauty was a poisoned chalice for the director Sam Mendes, who built his reputation on the strength of his theatre work in London. After the success of his debut movie, he made the accomplished yet slightly disappointing big-budget films Road to Perdition and Jarhead. However, adapting Richard Yates's classic 1961 novel Revolutionary Road must have flipped a switch in the director. He's back to making portraits of characters struggling with relationships of the type he used to essay on the stage. He has quickly followed his Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet romance with a similar story of thirtysomethings trying to find their place in the world. But where Revolutionary Road featured characters burdened by children and the past, it's the weight of expectation that's occupying the minds of the insurance salesman Burt (John Krasinski) and the medical illustrator Verona (Maya Rudolph). The humorous scene in which it is revealed that Verona is pregnant sets the tone for their playful, loving relationship. They're educated middle-class slackers who have time to wander across North America in search of the perfect spot to bring up baby. However, to Mendes's credit, he makes them seem real and vulnerable rather than cloying and self-righteous, despite the fact that the friends and family they visit in Phoenix, Tucson, Montreal and Miami seem hindered by problems greater than their own. The major downside comes when the couple do some unnecessary moralising about others, especially in the less amusing second half of the movie.