Overwhelmed by the looming responsibility of parenthood, a young, expecting couple—played by John Krasinski of The Office and Saturday Night Live alum Maya Rudolph—goes in search of a place to settle down. This journey takes them to different states, where they stay with relatives or college buddies who are, in different ways, exceptionally bad parents who inadvertently demonstrate what not to do.
The latest from Sam Mendes sometimes feels like a parody of an art movie, with details and dialogue so forced, they make the picture feel artificial. Some moviegoers found the dialogue in Juno to be too self-aware, knowingly cute and overly clever. I had a similar problem with this movie, which has “quirky” details—like Rudolph’s character being a surgical artist—that don’t have a purpose but seem to be there because, after all, it’s an art movie! There’s a lovely scene, near the end of the movie, where the couple makes a series of heartfelt promises to one another, but it’s typical of the film’s “whimsy” that it takes place on a trampoline.
Despite committed cameos by Allison Janney and Maggie Gyllenhaal, among others, as the parents from hell, these sequences are so outlandish and cartoonish, they come across like comedy sketches. Instead of presenting “alternative” child-rearing in a way that could provoke conversation between the two main characters (and among the audience), we get parents who raise their kids in such bizarre, demented ways, not even Jerry Springer would showcase these idiots on his show.
The immensely appealing and believable performances by Krasinski and Rudolph keep the film watchable—you’ll find yourself waiting for the movie around them to get better. Krasinski’s ultra-nerdy character grows on you but Rudolph, making her debut in a dramatic role far outside of her skillful SNL caricatures, gives a stunning, layered, award-worthy turn.
One of the best things the film does is show how a woman copes with the joy and hardships of being pregnant and how her boyfriend wants only what’s best, but is clueless how to be the father and provider he wants to be. We witness the experiences of a frightened couple that wants to be grown up and not settle for a meaningless life. Even when the film goes over the top and threatens to never come back down, it sometimes stumbles on profoundly universal truths.
It’s been 10 years since Mendes directed American Beauty, his celebrated Best Picture winner and debut film, and he still hasn’t made a movie as good. His latest has handsome cinematography, a nice soundtrack, two people you’d want to travel with and a lot of promise, but it never fully delivers. MTW