Maya Rudolph, formerly of "Saturday Night Live," is not funny in the new comedy-drama " Away We Go." She is, however, utterly convincing as Verona, a 34-year-old expectant mother whose thorny personality protects a tender center. Hiding her emotions but betraying them with her eyes, Rudolph lends depth and complexity to this otherwise facile story.
Written by husband-and-wife novelists Dave Eggers ("What Is the What") and Vendela Vida (a founder of the hip literary journal The Believer), "Away We Go" centers on Verona and her golden Lab of a boyfriend, Burt ( John Krasinski, of "The Office"). They are somewhat young and very "alternative," which is to say unmarried, self-employed, casually dressed and determined to raise their child in a stimulating, bohemian milieu.
That last triggers a cross-country search for a new home and a new lifestyle. ("Do I have to be this uncool for the rest of my life?" wonders a bloated Verona.) Each city, though, turns into a cautionary tale, if not a nightmare scenario.
In Phoenix, Allison Janney plays a middle-class harridan who browbeats her depressed children. In Madison, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Josh Hamilton spout smug, New Age psychobabble. In Miami, Burt's brother (Paul Schneider) struggles to raise a daughter alone. Only in fashionable Montreal do we find happy, frisky, still-partying parents, but even that dream has a dark side.
These people are cliches, but the film - unevenly directed by Sam Mendes ( "Revolutionary Road") - seems unaware that Burt and Verona are, too. The oppressively sensitive soundtrack by Alexi Murdoch (a dead ringer for Nick Drake) reveals their inner arrogance: We are real, while everyone else is a cartoon. Only Rudolph's grounded performance keeps "Away We Go" tethered to reality. CAST Maya Rudolph, John Krasinski, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Allison Janney
PLAYING AT Cinema Arts Centre, Huntington; Manhasset Cinemas
BOTTOM LINE Rudolph's sensitive performance almost saves this thin, self-satisfied comedy.
RATING R (language, sexuality, adult themes)