Sunday, July 19, 2009

Emily Gould on "Away We Go"

Today Steven read me Ms. Gould's harsh review of the new Sam Mendes movie, which was written by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida (the movie, not the review). She gets a few details wrong, but I can't say I disagree with much of what she says -- especially in the following passage, where she discusses one of the movie's major theses, "that it’s okay to be an asshole if you feel that someone else is being an asshole, because assholeness, in that context, is a way of being good":
This lesson is most clearly taught in Away We Go’s Maggie Gyllenhaal sequence. Maggie’s character LN (I don’t get it — is the letter “e” a tool of the patriarchy?) is a hyphenated-surnamed professor of something who lives in a nice bungalow full of Buddhist kitsch in Wisconsin. Her toddler breastfeeds (we’re meant to find this gross) and she and her longhaired, pirate-shirted husband exude the exact same creepy sexual pretentiousness that Will Farrell and Rachel Dratch do in those SNL “lovahh” sketches. Except those sketches are funny. LN isn’t funny, because she’s not satirizing anything real. This is irritating because there is a rich vein of 100% authentic ridiculous hippie over/underparenting that exists, but the movie will not tap it, because that might offend someone, I guess? So when LN condescendingly explains to Burt and Verona, who are visiting Wisconsin to see whether they might want to raise their unborn daughter there, that she adheres to a (made-up) parenting philosophy that eschews strollers because, she says, “I love my babies. Why would I want to push them away from me?”, it isn’t funny, not to me at least. And when she says this, Burt (John Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph) covertly exchange a look of “This person is totally cuckoo for cocoa puffs!” and roll their eyes at each other.

Eventually they can’t keep their disdain to themselves: at dinner, Burt finally snaps and announces to LN and her husband, in front of their toddler, that they are “bad people” who are full of “bullshit.” Then Verona stands aside and giggles smugly as Burt grabs the verboten stroller that they’d brought as a thoughtless gift and entices the toddler to take a ride in it. We are meant to giggle smugly, too, at LN’s comeuppance — except I was too busy trying to puzzle out which couple’s self-righteousness we were meant to be laughing at, to laugh.

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