Monday, June 8, 2009

A.O. Scott on Sam Mendes

Sam Mendes (of "American Beauty" fame) apparently has a new movie out (one I have no intention of seeing), based on a story by Dave Eggers, about an expectant hipster couple's search for a place to raise their child: "Away We Go". In his review of "Away We Go" in Friday's New York Times, A.O. Scott calls Mendes out ("Practicing Virtue, and Proud of It").

Of Sam Mendes's protagonists, the hipster expectant parents Burt and Verona (played by Jon Krasinski and Maya Rudolph, pictured above) Scott writes,

Their conversation is carefully poised on the boundary between facetiousness and sincerity, and they do things like turn unlikely words into adjectives by adding the letter Y (Burt wants a “Huck Finn-y” life for their baby) and pretend to argue about the difference between cobbling and whittling.

To observe that they inhabit no recognizable American social reality is only to say that this is a film by Sam Mendes, a literary tourist from Britain who has missed the point every time he has crossed the ocean. The vague, secondhand ideas about the blight of the suburbs that sloshed around “American Beauty” and “Revolutionary Road” are now complemented by an equally incoherent set of notions about the open road, the pioneer spirit, the idealism of youth.

Or something. Really, “Away We Go” is about the flight from adulthood, from engagement, from responsibility, even as it cleverly disguises itself as a search for all those things. But the dream of being left alone in a world of your own making, far from anything sad or icky or difficult, is a child’s fantasy. Not an unattractive or uncommon one, it must be said, and for that reason it is tempting to follow Burt and Verona into the precious, hermetic paradise that awaits them at the end of the road. You know they will be happy there. But you should also understand that you are not welcome. Does it sound as if I hate this movie? Don’t be silly. But don’t be fooled. This movie does not like you.

The comment thread on the version of this article on the New York Times website even includes some comments backing up Scott on his review. Below are two of them.

Eggers doesn't work on the screen

The story is the same kind of innocents-in-the-storm tale that a much-younger Eggers became famous on back those many years ago. But this is a variation on a now-tired Eggers theme and Scott gets that completely - to use the language of the film, a hipstery, politically correcty, don't-want-to-grow-uppy couple who can too easily see the faults in everyone else and prescribes a cure that has an icy condescension within its professed simplicity. The story, like Eggers, is getting too old.

Ed, Rhode Island

Watch an Apple-vs.-PC ad instead

You'll be watching the same plot: Young, hip, cool-o and pretentious triumphs over old, dysfunctional and clownish. And it won't cost you anything in cash or nearly as much in time.

A.O. Scott's review totally nailed it. In addition to the smugness and condescension I'd add affectation and treacle. Another example of filmmakers who seem to assume that all they have to do is anoint certain characters as "hip" or "offbeat," and use "edgy" colors and graphics in the posters, and the Angelika Film Center crowd will start lining up with open wallets.

But if you ask me, Eggers never worked on the page, either. Always makes me think of Tevye belting out a Mad magazine version of his Fiddler showstopper: "Pre-ten-tion!!"

TMJ, Kent, CT

If only Peggy Noonan read this blog. She could take Scott's rejection of the Mendes/Eggers weltenschauung, combine it with some personal observations about Americans wading through the Great Recession, and throw in an anecdote from her Reagan years for contrast. Then she could let it all marinate for a few days, and microwave it just before the deadline for her weekly Wall Street Journal column.

The publicity photo of Jon Krasinski and Maya Rudolph accompanied Scott's review and is credited to Fran├žois Duhamel/Focus Features.

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