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Another Place to Die

Sam North's prescient novel on the Flu Pandemic of 2009.
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>'Beautiful, plausible, and sickeningly addictive, this will terrify and thrill you.'
Roxy Williams -


The Road Movie by Sam North - Part Two - The road gets tougher
An essay on why the road continues to fascinate cinema the world over

Detour Starring Tom Neal, Ann Savage, Claudia Drake, Edmund MacDonald, Tim Ryan, Esther Howard, Roger Clark, Pat Gleason. Original novel and screenplay by Martin Goldsmith. Produced by Leon Fromkess. Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer.

The road movie really took hold in the traumatised times following the Second World War. Now America was full of returning GI's discovering the world has moved on, fortunes have been made and that they have no place in the society they left behind. They, and many others, disillusioned at not being part of 'society, arrived home and headed West to California or Washington State, where the new aircraft industry had begun to take shape. L.A. and Seattle were destinations of choice for the dispossessed and ambitious alike. The highway, now under construction, was becoming a symbol of everything that was new and yet a signal that new dangers lurked in the post-war society. Films such as 'Edgar G Ulmer's 'DETOUR' in 1945 were about people not so much going west to follow a dream, but exploring sick fantasies and preying on the innocent, much like highway men of old. "DETOUR' about a night-club pianist driving from New York to L.A. who picks up for more than he bargained for. It was a landmark film, flagging a seething discontent where drugs, murder, sexual exploitation were the new currency. It is film noir, but at the same time the road movie is born out of discontent with ones' lot in life. Not just in the movies either.

Jack Kerouac's 'On the road' written in the early fifties is just the start of a long tradition in fiction where people sought a solution to the answers of life, or an escape from responsibilities. In the sixties fiction would again follow Kerouac's lead with Ken Kasey’s ' Kandy Collared Acid test '. Let the acid do the journey, seemed to be the message, who needs a road? In the 1997 David Lynch, whose own films seem to borrow much from the road movie genre, has finally made the road movie from hell, which is close to the atmosphere that Ulmer tried to capture. 'Lost Highway' is the roadhouse/motel on the highway from hell where nightmares begin and reality seeps away to pure horror. Although his film has not proved popular, he has never shied away from showing the uncomfortable and perverse.

He later made amends with 'The Straight Story' almost an anti-road movie, but a road movie all the same, about a man called George Straight who drives a lawnmower clear across state to see his sick brother. This strange but compelling film has all the ingredients of the road journey as a metaphor for resilience, stubbornness and perhaps futility, but you can't but help be transfixed by the ultimate perversity of it, yet admiration for the old man's doggedness.

In the late nineties, David Kronenberg has given us 'Crash', and although at first glance one could possibly claim this to be a road movie since it involves cars and roads, it is as far from the ethos of the road movie genre as is possible. This is a nihilistic film, where no one seeks redemption. Characters seek perverted sex and are stimulated by the thought of death and maimed or severed limbs. Kronenberg’s Crash is less about the road than sexual obsessions. In a landscape shaped by eight lane highways and concrete ghettos. It is a film without hope and broadcasts an anti-utopian, fin de siècle message. (The 2004 Oscar winning 'Crash' written by Paul Haggis is an altogether better film with a strong anti-racist message but not really a road movie in any sense - despite involving cars, crashes and an excellent performance from all the cast, in particular Matt Dillon).

The road movie concept has not been confined to the USA. However, it ill suited the British landscape. For one thing, until the 1960's, there was no highway in England at all. The very concept of open roads, 'Diners', strangers encountering anything more lethal than an AA man was alien. 'Soft top, hard shoulder' is a brave attempt and funny, but driving through Scotland in a Triumph Herald is as inappropriate to the genre as scenes of Jim Carey on a bicycle on the highway in 'Dumb and Dumber', it adds nothing to the genre and takes much away.

Nevertheless when it’s a comedy done well the road movie is a great vehicle. Planes Trains and Automobiles is a classic of strangers on the road desperate to get home against all odds, bonding despite everything. It tells us something about the importance of Thanksgiving and generosity and of course, there is no place like home!
Something Wild in 1986 reasserted the dangers on why straight businessmen shouldn't give damsels in a distress a ride. Is Speed a 'road movie' just because there is a road?
I don't think so.

But John Casals’s first starrer 'The Sure Thing' in 1985 was. Any guy worth his salt has gone clean across the USA for a girl and of course you're going to meet someone else in such a long journey. Ten years later in To Wong Food, 'Thanks for everything Julie Newmar' starring the late Patrick Swazye the road is long, bus and its occupants are bad tempered cross-dressers but nevertheless, it works. I guess we can't forget 'Midnight Run' starring De Niro and the wonderful Charles Grodin. A classic cat and mouse road movie. Add to this another John Cusak 2003 movie ‘Identity’ directed by James Mangold and we hark back to the original roadhouse movie and Petrified Forest and this time we have ten strangers stranded at a desolate Nevada motel during a nasty rainstorm. They become acquainted with each other when they realize that they're being killed off one by one and all have the same unbelievable connection. This movie wasn’t so much appreciated at the time it came out but was a pretty good twist on the roadhouse theme and John Cusak lends a manic authority to the film, as madness grows more intense.

In Europe however, where roads were straighter, autobahn culture grew up around the new roads. With many shifting populations made rootless by war and the post-war prosperity, the road movie found favour.

For post-war European audiences, they would look at a Robert Mitchum movie such as 'Build My Gallows High', (Dir Geoffrey Homes) perhaps one of the best film noir movies of that time and pick up all kinds of inferences. Audiences see the open road, the Californian desert, the roadhouses and they would see adventure and romance. Perhaps they wouldn't recognise the despair, the feckless, rootlessness and restlessness underlying it all. America was the victor; in any case, people saw what they wanted to see.

For people such as Francois Truffaut seeing these films post-war was a revelation. It was no longer a 'Wonderful life' - something dark and sinister had overtaken America and is showing up in these films. It's a Wonderful Life (1946) itself is dark and sinister. This is what happens if you don't care about people and let profit ride roughshod everything. Although it is a favourite now, it wasn't so in 1946, people didn't like what it said about America.

'Il Strada' by Antonioni was a literal reinterpretation of the American experience. The German's later responded with Wim Wenders aimless characters riding the German landscape. Other filmmakers too used the autobahn, it became the escape route for would be rebels or even innocents who befriended them in 'The Lost honour of Katerina Blum' and later German cinema 'Run Lola Run'. The French in particular took up the highway and despair as a metaphor for all that troubled France. Goddard with 'Weekend' the famous endless traffic jam and the horrendous outcome of terrorists eating random ‘motorists.’ Latterly 'Betty Blue' set a kind of European blueprint for disaffected youth searching for a new life. Only partly a road movie, yet 'Blue' reflects all the values of its American ancestry but perhaps too quickly reaches a destination to play out the impending tragedy.

The Europeans experimented with the surreal and satiric. Bertolucci's film 'about Italy’s Fascist past, ‘The Conformist' uses the road as a theme to link the past and the future, pre-war Italy and the changed circumstances during the war. 'The Conformist ' is yet not quite a 'road' movie either, but an interpretation of the American road movie, using the journey to an assination to reveal the past. Bertolucci's imagery is nothing short of spectacular and using architecture he informs us in shot after shot the pretensions of Fascist Italy and his one key shot of the autumn leaves at his Mother's villa haunt one for years, as does the expression on Dominique Sanda's face when she realises his indifference to her peril.

By coincidence, the same star, Jean-Louis Trintingnant was involved in another road movie 'Un Home and et Femme', not so much about the road, but using the same reflective elements of past and future, love, danger and car racing. More recently ' Betrand Blier's 'Mercie la Vie' brought the road movie an extraordinary slant, with two girls on the road hitching, causing mayhem whilst running parallel is a paranoid story about AIDS and a time warp with the Nazi occupation of France. Daring and perplexing, 'Mercie La Vie' is also compulsive viewing. The opening short of a girl in a wedding dress being flung out of a car grips from the start.

The Americans meanwhile refined the nightmare that the highway had come to represent. One of the first to reflect the new style was 'Midnight Cowboy', realism and despair were the elements and New York as the 'fantasy' place where they would find salvation. Terence Malick's evocative film 'Badlands' used the poetic and lavish scenery of the mid-west as a backdrop to the relentless horror of a passionless killer who model's himself on James Dean and his under-aged girlfriend on the run. The film is redeemed by embracing the beauty of the landscape, truly incorporating it into the text of the filmic experience. This would again be true of his next film, ' Days of Heaven' which although about people who rode the rails in the depression and worked as seasonal farm labour, it again evokes the essence of the road movie and the keen desperation to belong, to have something, even if it isn't yours.

By now though the road movie was turning sour and this theme would be again explored by such films as Tony Scott's 'True Romance' 1993 (literally a reworking of Badlands by the writer Tarantino, who is quite inventive with other peoples work.) This is funny and quirky with a fine keynote scene with Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walkman. This film appreciates with age and there is a great affection for all the characters involved.

With the film 'Kalifornia' and Oliver Stone's 'Natural Born Killers' (where the again the writer is Tarantino) the ultimate sickness here is that the highway is peopled with serial killers who will strike at anyone, care nothing for life at all. It eliminates all hope for salvation and mocks those who are foolish enough to seek the 'good life' or lead honourable lives. This is the road movie as dead end, for if there is no hope, why risk your life on the road at all? Perhaps it is a good thing that audiences have not responded to these later films, recognising them for the aberration they are.
In a quite different species of road movie, Spielberg's 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind’, exposes the paranoia that is all too persistent under the surface of American society. The road is a pathway now to a different kind of salvation. The aliens have become the cavalry who will at any moment come over the hill to save us from ourselves. Even Germany's Wim Wenders came to America to make his peon to despair 'Paris Texas'. The road movie became less a journey west to seek utopia, than movies about people trapped on the highway with no sense of direction, or purpose, who perhaps didn't even want to arrive. Paris Texas also models itself on Ford's 'The Searchers' in that a man searches for his wife, but not amongst the hostile Native Americans, but the arid and neon jungle of the sex-industry. It is more than most a film about America's lost innocence.

Some attempt has been made to revivify the genre. Such films as 'Red Rock West' where the small town on the highway represents the roadhouse and adventurers exploit each other in the manner of the Ulmer films of the fifties. Others, such as George Lucas, look to boyhood memories (American Graffiti) but in reality his film is a hot-rod movie and is more about small-town America and a certain lack of courage to actually get out of town and seek ones fortune. Perhaps that is why road movies are so resilient, for many, the road is too great an obstacle, the dangers too intimidating, we let the character's in these films travel for us and if they encounter trouble and death, then we have the satisfaction of knowing 'we told you so' and we lock our doors at night, keeping 'adventure' at a distance, on the outside.

(Certainly, if you look at a whole raft of movies showing now, the road movie is not a 'popular' choice. Some might be about journeys, but that alone is not sufficient. This doesn't mean the road movie is dead, merely unfashionable.)
We are left with others to give us the road. 'The Wild One' may have been about bikers, but again, they didn't really get far out of town and besides, what was their goal? Nothing grander than self-gratification and gang rivalry. This in turn led to 'Easy Rider' which started a string of drugs, good times and stoned Kerouac styled philosophy movies. Peter Fonda in discussing this film has said that he pushed these characters as far as they could go and his character's suicide at the end was a metaphor for the end of the road movie, the end of freedom, rather than a celebration of it. One star of 'Easy Rider' (Jack Nicholson) moved onto another road movie, 'Five Easy Pieces' which unusually trekked North. As did another more unusual European movie 'Strozek'. Directed by Werner-Herzog, it told the tale of a German immigrant to the Northwest who finds American life a complete dead-end, not at all what he expected.

Road movies were no longer confined to going west, but could travel in almost every direction. Even Australia where the 'Mad Max' series posted an apocalyptic postscript to the road movie. The future has a road, but it goes nowhere.
In 1969, another European, Antonioni made 'Zabriskie Point'. Something of a seminal work and breathtaking to watch even now, it is nevertheless very much of its time. It captures the empty shallowness of the 70's so well you can taste it.

The sixties and seventies sought to redefine the road movie and were successful in many ways. 'Vanishing Point' exploited speed and nihilism. Goddard's 'A bout de Souffle' (Breathless) the illusion of freedom and easy living without responsibility. 'Paper Moon' nostalgia for a lost world, as is 'Bonnie and Clyde', one of the most successful road movies, although arguably is just a movie where the road is less about destination, than destiny with eventual death. The eighties gave us 'Baghdad Cafe' and David Lynch's 'Wild at Heart'. Both popular and strange.

There are even Japanese road movies. 'Sonatine' in the 1990's mirrors 'Bonnie and Clyde'. Not in that is about random crimes, but it asks when bad guys hit the road, what is the element that binds them together. The destination, or their shared ideals? The road reveals an absence of moral virtues, it exposes people to their bare essentials, and philosophy is often the outcome when men leave the comfort of what they know for the unexplored. It answers another question as well. What do Gangsters do on vacation? They shoot at each other with fireworks. Sonatine picks up on another theme of the 'Road Movie', that quite often these people are bored. With life, with themselves. The road, to keep moving to avoid confrontation with the self is a key to their motivation. Despair is the end result.

Other road movies have explored social issues, 'Rain Man' the first autistic road movie. 'From Dusk till Dawn', horror, but most simply, 'El Mariachi' by Robert Rodriguez encapsulates all the elements of the road movie. The young hopeful man walks into town from nowhere and is immediately beset by a multitude of problems. 'My Private Idaho' and 'Whatever Happened to Gilbert Grape' uses the road merely as a prop; these are not really road movies as such, lacking the road as a central character. The road in 'Gilbert Grape' is the way in and the way out of town, most of the characters in the film would like to leave, but fear of change holds them in place. There is a world of difference to America of the 1930's where the road was seen as a conduit to escape from all the ills of society, to the present where the road brings nothing but trouble, serial killers, disease and despair. If anything, many towns would now welcome a by-pass, so no one will notice that they have a good life that they would be reluctant to share.

Jim Jarmusch approached the ultimate road movie with 'Night on Earth' possibly the longest taxi-ride in any movie. But again, it doesn't really satisfy as a road movie as it is more about the taxi than the social or environment surrounding it.
But who has anything fresh to say about the road movie? Is there a writer/director in America who can explore the context of the road movie and bring a new look to it? 'Even Cowgirls get the blues' is a road movie with a difference. Written in the 1970's it was then a brave and shocking tale of a girl with a big thumb and sexual appetite, but as a road movie at the box office, it failed. Possibly it is necessary to be able to identify with the main protagonists. That was the secret of 'Thelma and Louise'. The audience for the film perhaps should have been predominantly female, yet it was film much favoured by men and women, mostly because, one suspects that the women seemed so real, and the story so believable. It's a film that has found a following, not so much because of feminism, but simply because the road movie, done well appeals to the adventure and longing in us all.

See also the wonderful 'O Brother Where art Thou' by the Coen Brothers a classic throwback to 1930's road trips and prison escape movies. Everything about this movie worked and even the soundtrack reached the top of the CD charts. George Clooney harks back to Clark Gable and the road is an integral part of these convicts search for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
The road is more than a means to find the pot of gold, it is the pathway of an oddessey. It faithfully gives us an insight into the corrupt politics fo the time and the significance of radio in that period.

A student once asked me if 'Road to Perdition' is a 'road movie'. Well it has Road in the title and Tom Hanks gets to drive a lot. But essentially it is a gangster movie and that comes with a whole different set of luggage. Many gangster moves use 'the road'. After all they began shifting liquor by road from Canada during Prohibition, so the road is key. But the ethos is different. No one in a gangster movie is searching for the meaning of life and that essentially is what a road movie is about. *Although I might correct myself and say that Tom Hanks's character discovers the importance of life in this film.

The director Hal Hartley comes close to a genuine road movie with his 1991 film 'Simple Men'. It is certainly one of the most interesting attempts of the last twenty years. The characters seek not salvation, but in the tradition of Ford's 'The Searchers' these are people who are in search of someone and must hit the road to find a solution. Two brothers, one an unsuccessful crook, who has just been betrayed by his girlfriend and lost out on a successful computer heist, hears from his younger brother that their father, a political radical and terrorist has been captured by the police 20 years after he allegedly bombed the Pentagon. When the younger brother arrives at the police station he is surprised to find that his father has already escaped. The two brothers unite and set off to find their father. Broke, they have just $15 bucks between them to get them to Long Island. It doesn't get them far. From the first stop on the island, they will have to walk the rest. They know their father is somewhere on Long Island and at the first town they come to; serendipity comes to their aide. A broken down motorcycle, a schoolgirl willing to help and a wrestling Nun all make this interlude entirely memorable. When they finally get on the road, naturally there will be something or someone to impede their progress.

Lying in wait are two women, one who has just had an epileptic fit and just so happens to be their father's radical girlfriend and the other, who, naturally owns a roadhouse. The roadhouse is the honey trap of all road movies. It is where everything gets turned around. At the roadhouse, the men wait, always on tenterhooks as the woman who owns it is waiting for her ex-lover to return at any minute since he's been released from jail (for a violent crime) and there is the jealous but spurned lover also hanging in the wind ... The brothers find themselves caught in the vortex of these women's lives, but can't leave, as they know one day soon, their father will reclaim his young lover.

'Simple Men' is a true but quirky road movie, filled with waiting and longing, philosophic musing and the threat of violence, like a heavy purple sky on a balmy summer afternoon. These are people no longer in control of their lives, caught in the headlights of impending doom. All the while, the law, in the background, is slowly making their way to the conclusion that the brothers are wanted men....

Hal Hartley's 'Simple Men' is a classic example of the 'Road movie' yet somehow reinvents it, brings to it a look and feel quite utterly contemporary without seeming to be either a copy of others, or overly influenced by film noir style. Unlike 'Kalifornia' - the serial killers on the road film that tries to recreate the atmosphere of the old road movies whilst adding a wholly grotesque atmosphere to the proceedings, 'Simple Men' succeeds in reminding us that normal people ride the roads and they are not just ciphers waiting for a bullet to blow their heads off, but thinking people, unable to accept the mundane kind of life usually on offer. They live for what all characters live for in a road movie, the horizon, the next sunset, the new dawn, but remember, the next roadhouse will be waiting, to ensnare you; stop there, if you dare...

'Y tu mama tambien' Alfonso Cuaron's 2001 Mexican Road Movie is much loved- the Mexican Road movie became a big success and the Director went on to direct Harry Potter and the amazing Children of Men. (Which certainly has elements of the road movie in it and is a fine end of the world movie). Y Tu Madre Tambien was a gem because it gave us a new culture to explore, had characters that you could like and it was an adventure about sex, the road, love, and finally death. A road movie about growing up. What more could you want.

Two young boys, almost like brothers (Tenoch played by Diego Luna and Julio played by Gael Garcia Bernal (Motorcycle Diaries) and a confident beautiful 'older' woman Luisa Cortes (Maribel Verdu) take a trip of sexual discovery and enlightenment. Tenoch is from a rich family, Julio from a lower middle class one. Their surnames Iturbide and Zapata are a nice reminder of the political turmoil that is Mexican history and their journey is not just one of sexual development with the lonely Luisa.

It is social commentary on the lives of the young men, their feelings and political awakenings, but also we see the real Mexico, its complexities and sharp contrasts. This is what a road movie should be. It is about escape, albeit temporary, from the constraints of their own lives and discovering freedom as they head towards a mythical beach, Boca del Cielo (Heaven's Mouth). We the viewer learns something about them and modern Mexico and that is no bad thing.

In 2004 we also got another South American road movie - The Motorcycle Diaries based on Ché Guevara's book and adapted by Alberto Granado directed by Walter Salles. It stars Gael Garcia Bernal as Ché (Ernesto Guevara de la Serna) at the very beginning of his political awakenings and Rodrigo De La Serna as Alberto Granado.
Two young men on a motorcycle who want to see South America before they commit to careers.

It's exactly what the road is for. To escape obligations and duty. To explore freedom before debt and hunger force you to conform. That it is Ché Guevara and Alberto Granado, famed for their revolutionary exploits in South America and Cuba makes it all the more interesting. What are the roots of a revolutionary?

You see that exactly. Whether discovering how hard it is to work in the Chuquicamata Copper mine and how badly the natives are treated, or going among the lepers at the colony and remembering to treat them with dignity and respect, Ché and Alberto are teaching us a lesson. We understand how South America, still to this day embraces all the harshness of capitalism and few of the social responsibilities. It is easier now to understand why Central and South America are always in such turmoil and the performances are all times accessible and human, often quite funny. This is not a film about a 'moment' that made Ché a revolutionary. It is about a man, destined to be a Doctor, already a liberal, who finds that this journey awakens more than a conscience about the life about him. It's an internal psychological change and his seriousness is nicely contrasted by his companion Alberto who just wants to get laid all the time. Motorcycle Diaries has found its audience (and possible awards) because it never preaches, it is educational but embracing and audiences develop a warm fuzzy feeling about this film. Which leads us the Oscar winning road movie...
'Sideways' written and directed by Alexander Payne (About Schmidt) based on the novel by Rex Pickett. Starring Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh, Marylouise Burke.

Sideways is a road movie and a damn good one. It has a simple plot, two middle-aged guys who haven’t reached anywhere near their potential in life take a road trip in Napa Valley, one week before one of them, Jack, played with gusto by Thomas Haden Church (Spiderman 3), is due to get married to the lovely Victoria. It’s an escape from reality into unreality, but oddly enough, given their ages, it is also a coming of age picture. The road, as often stated, educates us, makes us face up to who we are and what we are escaping. Miles played brilliantly by Paul Giamatti may be a middle-English teacher at a school in San Diego with several rejected novels under his belt, but away from the hum and drum of his life, he is an expert oenophile (wine lover). In Napa they don’t care what you do or what you are, if you know your wine, you are welcome. In Napa, Miles is Superman, in San Diego Clarke Kent. Or something like. He is well liked, respected and clearly has an established relationship with a small group of waiters, barman and vineyards. This is where he goes to be who he’d like to be.

Jack, a failed soap opera actor, now doing voice-overs, has struck lucky, he is due to marry Victoria, the daughter of a rich Armenian construction family. But, he is full of doubts, about himself, his ability to commit, settle down, and of course, validate himself in Victoria’s eyes. She is rich, he is poor, and won’t she resent that?
The road trip is designed to leave both of themselves behind and rekindle college days, carefree moments when the future seems possible.

Of course there is baggage. Miles is getting therapy for depression and drugs to deal with it, he is anxious about his latest novel; awaiting a decision from a publisher about it. Jack is just like a dog on heat, anything that moves he wants to hump, as if marriage and monogamy is a jail sentence rather than an escape in luxury.

Two men, utterly incompatible, - ex-college roomies, on the road to rediscover themselves. Of course Miles has one plan (to see the vineyards and educate jack to wine) Jack has a plan to get laid as often as possible and even, generously, set up Miles for a good time on the way. (He does this by boosting Miles and telling everyone he is about to have his book published, much to Miles' embarrassment.)

So it’s a road adventure, but in a concentric circle, as they based at the Windmill Motel whilst they go to sample wines in the vineyards. At the motel Jack notices that Mia, the lovely waitress (Virginia Madsen) really likes and respects Miles, but Miles is too down on himself to acknowledge it. He schemes to get them together (which might take some browbeating). Later Jack discovers Stephanie (Sandra Oh) at a vineyard and realises she is up for it. So will Miles get Mia, will Jack get Stephanie and will Jack mention that he is about to get married on Saturday?

Alexander Payne concentrates on the humanity of the characters, plot is minimal, and to some extent this film borrows something from a French Road movie 'Le Bonheur est dans le pré' by Etienne Chatiliez (OK there is no striking workforce in Sideways, but once the boss leaves and hits the road, there are similarities). Virginia Madsen is wonderful and when she finally gets Miles to open up and talk about wine (whilst Jack is humping Stephanie in the bedroom) you can see that she really likes him – despite the fact that what Miles is actually talking about his himself as a vine that can only grow in a particular place and needs lots of attention to get to its full potential. She even offers to read his unpublished novel (every writers dream as of course, no one ever really offers to read your book unless they are in love with you).

Jack is beginning to think he has made a terrible mistake in getting married and really likes Stephanie, but the truth is he likes any woman and it’s Miles who has to extract him from trouble when he dips his wick in the wrong place. Worse, once Stephanie discovers Jack is a lying twister just out to get laid…she is devastated and Jack gets his come-uppance in the car park.

The ending is beautifully played, resulting in Miles getting his car wrecked and although there probably is a rule that road movies can’t end happily, this one does and leaves us with hope. Hope is a good feeling. Once can see why it has resonated so well with cinemagoers and the Oscars.

Which brings us to the present day and the release of Sam Mendes’s film ‘Away We Go’ 2009 written by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida starring John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph. Sam Mendes already gave us ‘Road to Perdition’ and which I argue is not in the spirit of a ‘road’ movie and oddly enough, I not sure this film or even his previous film ‘Revolutionary Road’ is either. A rootless young couple released from an obligation to live near their parents set off to discover just where they want to live. Only they do most of the journeys between Phoenix, Montreal and Miami and between by air or train, but yes it is a voyage of self discovery. Verona is a heavily pregnant wife and Burt an innocent abroad, as it were, who sells insurance futures but probably not very well. Verona is a technical artist, but we do little to explore their ‘talents’ and this is really just an excuse to say how crass and empty everyone is in America pursuing hopeless dreams. It is filled with clichés such as Maggie Gyllenhall playing an earth mother, Allison Janney trying to repeat her ‘wacky’ character from Juno (although her husband (Jim Gaffigan) gives a wonderful morose summation of Phoenix’s future). Basically this rather unlikeable couple discover that none of their friends or relatives are happy and that there’s ‘no place like home’. It seemed filled with promise but in the end it is maudlin and most likely a box office failure. A shame.
© Sam North 2000-2009

Sam North is the author of the historical novel Diamonds – The Rush of ‘72 and Another Place to Die – The Next Great Flu Pandemic

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