Thursday, July 30, 2009

Friday Films: "Food, Inc."

We went Tuesday night to see the new documentary, Food, Inc., and before I went in, I was worried that the movie would reach the wrong audience. Well, not the "wrong" audience, because a documentary reaching any audience is great, and we all should think about what we're eating, but what I meant was that I was concerned that the people who see this movie are the ones who are already buying organic, buying local, reading the labels.

I think seeing the movie quelled that for me, because I saw a variety of people there who I would not expect to see this kind of film. It's a small town, so you tend to know who goes to the independent cinema, at least by sight. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, though. For as much as documentaries don't sell, people love the Discovery Channel and Food Network. This movie is like a combination of the two, with higher production values and more sickening food manufacturing montages.

If there is a hero in this film, it is the local family farmer--much like in "The Omnivore's Dilemma"--a figure in rapid decline. There was a palpable sense of relief in the audience when the focus of the movie shifted, for a few minutes, to Virginia's Polyface Farm, where an interesting (if slightly paranoid) farmer and his family (I assume they were family) prepared chickens. They showed the farmhand cut the chickens' throat, but after seeing factories filled with dead, sick birds, it was weirdly calming to see someone who obviously respects the process of preparing the bird. This wasn't wholesale slaughter--it was the way things used to be. The farmer then walked down to his grazing pigs and talked to them, and it was an oddly sweet moment: we knew that someday, these pigs would be meat, but at the same time, their conditions were so idyllic that it didn't seem terrible.

I really recommend this movie, even if you've read the books and you're already buying organic and local. It's eye-opening, and the end was surprisingly hopeful. There are a lot of activist documentaries that just don't work as a call to action, but this film is not one of them. The end of the movie is basically about how consumer response does matter: even Wal-Mart is increasing the presence of organic foods in its stores. Go to the website, see the movie, and eat real food. That is all. This movie reminded me that I want to raise my own chickens, too.

Unrelated but fun: the new season of "Mad Men" premieres on AMC on Sunday, August 16th. AMC launched a great website where you can make yourself into a 60s-style cartoon of an advertising executive (or secretary, wife, or female copywriter). I saw these cartoons inspired by the show awhile ago, back when the artist was selling them on her own, and I'm simultaneously disappointed that I didn't buy a print back then, and happy that she got hired by AMC.

UPDATE: I got a call earlier today from Matt Oas, asking about the tornado here in the Poconos. Since this is Friday Films, here is a video of the tornado, from the Pocono Record:

Everyone I know is fine. The afternoon this thing hit, Charlie could tell a storm was coming. We were walking, and he bit his leash and dragged me inside. Smart Dog.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Musical Wednesdays: Black Joe Lewis!

I had never heard of Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears when I saw them perform last September, opening for Okkervil River. I didn't even know, going into the show, that there would be opening acts. But they accomplished a feat rarely seen at indie rock shows: they got people to dance. Well, not many. There were still those who stood, arms crossed, wondering what all of this noise was. They probably didn't get it, the horns and the blues, but we did, and we danced.

They are, to put it simply, a blues band of the old-school variety, with the daring and showmanship of the funk that old blues inspired. There's a horn section that drives the music, and the frontman, Black Joe Lewis himself, has a voice that is unlike anything out there right now. Just looking at the roster of the band, you can tell who they're inspired by, and the kind of image they want to project: Black Joe Lewis, Sugarfoot Watson, Rooster Andrews, Big Show Varley, and Wild Bill Slyder are all members of the band, rounded out by McKnight the Night Train and Sleepy Ramirez.

While the idea of starting an Austin, Texas-based blues band in 2007, with nicknames inspired by Howlin' Wolf and Guitar Murphy, might seem arch and self-conscious, there is nothing tongue-in-cheek about the music they're making. I was really glad to hear the single "Sugarfoot" circulating on satellite radio, because I think this is a band that deserves coverage. They were, without a doubt, one of the best live bands I've ever seen, and they understand that having a hell of a live show can make your band: before South By Southwest 2009, Esquire magazine predicted that they would be a breakout band of the festival, and Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears performed seven times that week to prove the magazine right. It worked. Their album sold a ton of copies, and since then, I've kept hearing about them. Tomorrow, they will be featured on NPR's World Cafe. They also were chosen as a video of the week on iTunes and featured as a promotional download on Amazon.

I want to see this band again. They're not touring the East Coast anytime soon, but if you're on the West Coast, and they're coming through, get out there and dance. It's gritty, amazing blues, and you won't be able to stop listening to it. I have "Sugarfoot" in my head just from thinking about it. Once you hear the horn part, you'll understand.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Fiction Mondays: Let the Revisions Begin

I waited two weeks, and then started revising my novel. I'm only about thirty pages into the revision at this point, but I'm glad to see I still like it, and I still want to see where this characters might go. I haven't found any major problems so far, but it's early. The opening pages are covered in red ink, but these are things that didn't sound right, or didn't sound like the characters I got to know so well. Or they were just typos. There's not much to report, but expect updates on the revision process as I go along. I'm also going to need to recruit some readers for future drafts, so if you would like to volunteer, leave a comment or e-mail me at:


In other reading news, I want to recommend Jayne Anne Phillips' Lark and Termite to everyone reading. It's really interesting, and uses structure and time really well--it takes place over the same few days, set nine years apart. In the earlier days, Corporal Robert Leavitt gets caught up in violence in the opening days of the Korean War, while the parallel story, nine years later, is about his son and step-daughter, living with their aunt in West Virginia. Leavitt's son, Termite, is disabled, unable to really see (except colors) and to move his arms. There's this great interplay between what time means to Leavitt, stuck in a tunnel and trying to get in touch with leadership, and Termite, who doesn't seem to have any grasp of time. He reminds me, somewhat, of Benjy Compson in The Sound and the Fury, in his descriptions: they all run together as a commentary of the colors and sounds that surround him, and we get a sense of the story unfolding that he does not understand.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Friday Films: Woody Allen's Diminishing Returns

A few weeks ago, we went to see Woody Allen's new movie, Whatever Works. You know what doesn't? Anything in this movie. Larry David as an actor. The relationship between his character and a young girl who is little more than a dumb southern caricature. The script. Many of the things that have worked for Woody Allen before.

The movie starts off with a long rant (not sure exactly how long, but definitely too long) directed straight at the camera, directly to the audience. Larry David's character, Boris, bitches about everything--seriously, everything--from health to love to how he isn't a likeable guy, and the whole rant, I sat there waiting for it to end. But even once it ended, there was still Larry David, shouting his way through a weak, wooden script. I wondered if it wasn't too late to sneak into a different theater to see Away We Go for a second time.

Now, Woody Allen has used a direct address to the camera before. He's used it well. The opening of Annie Hall, with Alvy Singer's monologue (not bitching, but two jokes) is brilliant, and it tells us that we're going to like this neurotic character:

He's actually visited a lot of bits in Whatever Works before, but has done it better: the older guy dating a young girl? I liked it better when it was called Manhattan. Even Woody Allen playing miserable, like in Crimes and Misdemeanors, was so much better than Larry David doing so in Whatever Works. It doesn't seem like the same director. At this point, it's almost like Woody Allen is doing a poor imitation of Woody Allen.

I hated this movie. I want the world of a movie to convince me--sure, it can be outlandish, or postmodern, or whatever clever trick a director might want to use--but I want it to be a world I can inhabit. I don't want to see the seams and be distracted by the implausibility or the bad script or the lack of acting. Nothing in this movie captivated. It was a mess, with no redeeming characters, no good or even memorable dialogue, and nothing original to say. The worst part, though, had to be the fact that Woody Allen, who used to be perfect at casting (see "Hannah and Her Sisters") got everything in this movie so wrong. There wasn't anything there to take with you, except a wish that you hadn't spent your time and money on this awful, miserable train wreck, and a memory that at some point, Woody Allen was a great director.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Musical Wednesdays: Anachronistic Soundtracks

I've been re-watching the second season of Mad Men, and I saw that in one episode, they use "The Infanta" by the Decemberists. It's a really great use of the song, because the sequence is a montage of several female characters getting dressed up, and the song is about a young princess and all of her servants and over-the-top entourage ("Here she comes, on her palanquin, on the back of an elephant"), but I couldn't help but think about the fact that the song was written 40 years after the show takes place. I've been wondering what they're going for with that--is it that the Decemberists tend to reference a past that probably never existed? It's a past of powerful women, of bandit queens astride their steeds and of chinese trapeze artists smuggling bombs for the underground. It's anachronistic, but it takes place in a time when there weren't songs about strong women, because it was threatening. It would still be a few years (the show takes place in the early 1960s) before really powerful female statements would be acceptable. The show is moving toward this--the 1950s are fading quickly and a new woman is emerging. But why this song in particular? Here's what I think: the song is about a girl, a royal girl, but she is still an object: "we all come praise her," the song says, but it's certainly not for her brains or talent.

But this whole thing got me thinking: what other movies or television shows have anachronistic soundtracks? The first one I found was a movie I didn't really see: Sophia Coppola's Marie Antoinette. I'm sure this movie was watched in my college dorm room at some point, but I'm equally sure I didn't see anything of it. I think I came in late, watched a montage over "I Want Candy," and decided I didn't want to waste my time. There weren't many others I could find--There Will be Blood is said to have one, but I don't count a score as anachronistic. It's an issue that's only brought up when it's a criticism, it seems. Other than in Moulin Rouge, which is so over-the-top pastiche and self-consciously anachronistic that it almost needs the modern music for its insane, really enjoyable aesthetic.

So to sum up: I don't know why Mad Men used The Decemberists, but I like it. It was inspired, and surprising, and really smart. And maybe that's reason enough.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Fiction Mondays: The Book of Other People

I've been reading "The Book of Other People," the anthology Zadie Smith edited as a fundraiser for the 826 Foundation. It features stories by Dave Eggers, Vendela Vida, ZZ Packer, Edwidge Danticat, and a bunch of British authors I am not familiar with. Some of their stories are really good, though, particulary one called "Frank." It's incredible what the writer accomplishes by avoiding saying some things--by making things implicit instead of explicit, the story becomes a kind of excercise in letting the reader know just enough. The stories range from very serious to kind of out-there (Dave Eggers' story, "Theo," is about mountains that are sleeping giants), so diving into each story, you don't have any expectations. I really like it.

I think, as a writer, that when you're given a simple prompt, it really lets your work go where it wants, and some of the writers in the anthology really take advantage of that. One, by Aleksander Hemon, is called "The Liar," and it's about Jesus, but it's not the kind of story about Jesus that you dread reading. As he walks to Golgotha, this version of Jesus says to a soldier, "I'm the son of God, you know." The soldier says, "And I'm Virgil." He's a human Jesus who can be mocked just like anyone else. Another story, by Jonathan Safran Foer, is an old grandmother talking to her grandson, and she wanders and says a lot of off-topic things that really illuminate who she is, and what their relationship is like. It's subtle, and funny.

I've been working on a very short story. Two, actually. Both 250 words, for Opium Magazine's "Bookmarks" contest. One is about a suicidal vaudevillian, and the other is about a small Polish village found behind the grocery store. I don't normally write things this short, so it's a challenge, getting to what I want to say in time. I kind of like it, though. I think it's the puzzle-and-scrabble part of my brain that I have to use to edit--what is the trick, here? What can I take out in order to make myself clearer in fewer words? It's a thought process I'm applying to longer works, too, and I think it's making my fiction a lot leaner. Lean is good, I think, as long as I don't overdo it.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Friday Films: Guerilla Drive-In

I've been waiting to upload pictures of this, and now I'm ready to share my Guerilla Drive-In adventure.

Guerilla Drive-In, for the uninitiated, is a...I don't know if you'd call it a group, or an individual with a motorcycle, or even a movement, that projects 16mm films at secret locations throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania. Why are they secret? Because it makes it more fun. To get on the mailing list, you need to find The MacGuffin (this device is named after a concept used with great success by Hitchcock and Spielberg. It means, simply, the thing that the protagonist wants. It's the 39 Steps. It's the Ark of the Covenant. It's the Maltese Falcon. It exists to move the plot forward.) Guerilla Drive-In's MacGuffin is an AM transmitter that plays, when you find it, a secret message and (for now, at least) a cover of the theme song from "Brazil". I found it. And I'm sorry, I simply cannot tell you where it is. I think there might be some hints on their website. The guy who runs it projects the movies from the sidecar of his old BMW motorcycle:

He also runs a company called Nerd Merit Badges, so if you find the MacGuffin and go to a showing, you get this unpurchasable GDI Badge.

So: having found the MacGuffin and having received a member number (93), I got the e-mail that they were going to show "Back to the Future" on top of a parking deck, in sight of a clock tower. We drove down to West Chester for the showing, and I have to say, it was way beyond what I expected. I thought it would be fun, but they really went beyond just fun: there were temporary tattoos, and the Mid-Atlantic DeLorean Club had a little car show set up. It was a beautiful night, no rain and hovering around the mid 70s. Between reels, they would have a little intermission, where you could walk around and talk to other members. The son of the president of the DeLorean Club was handing out pins with a modified Guerilla Drive-In logo, with DeLoreans in the lenses.

When the movie ended, my friend Kirk and I talked about how all movies should be shown outside, with breaks between reels. I'm sure some people would say that destroys the illusion, that it takes you out of the world of the film, but I think with Guerilla Drive-In, the idea is that the world of the film is secondary to the environment you're viewing it in. You're not there to be wrapped up in the narrative; you're there to be wrapped up in being there.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Musical Wednesdays: "I Don't Expect a Southern Girl to Know the Northern Lights"

I just recently discovered the band Bowerbirds, and in that discovery I learned that I am behind the curve in listening to them. They apparently toured with John Vanderslice and the Mountain Goats while I wasn't looking. They're a North Carolina band, and there is something very Mid-Atlantic to Southern about their sound.
The first song I heard, "Northern Lights," is really blues/folk-inspired. Every time I hear the opening chords, I think it's going to be Ryan Adams. The song's lyrics (one line is the title of this post) are really simple and interesting: "I don't need you to catch my wandering mind," and later, "Yes I do need to know my place." The contrast between wandering and staying is reflected in the composition: there's a way they walk around the song, with the guitars and drums really settling into some notes and beats harder and for a longer time than others. It really reminds me of Bon Iver's "Skinny Love." They're a lot tougher-sounding than Bon Iver (well, sometimes. Sometimes Bon Iver really turns things up). There's also something in them that reminds me of Fleet Foxes, but again, I think their sound is a bit harder. Fleet Foxes seem to be more about the vocal arrangements and the sounds that the voices can make by layering and coming in at different points, whereas the Bowerbirds are more about the arrangement as a whole.
I would love to see them live, but apparently I just missed them in Philadelphia. Just missed them as in they were there last week. I need a better way to keep track of who is playing nearby. I want to go to more shows. I can't wait to see the Decemberists in August.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Fiction Mondays: Big First Draft

Very exciting news: I finished the first draft of my novel last week. When I got to last chapters, I just couldn't stop, so one afternoon I wrote through to the end. 91,747 words. That will change as I edit; a lot will be added and subtracted, but I like that number. It seems like a good start, and it's definitely the longest thing I've ever written. And there are parts--I won't know this for sure until I start editing sometime next week, but I have a feeling--that are good. At some point in my non-editing, just-writing first draft, themes started emerging, sometimes out of necessity for the plot or the development of the characters. Things I pulled inspiration from suddenly made perfect sense. The characters got deeper and started surprising me, doing things that I didn't know they had in them. But once they did these things, it made perfect sense. It was really astounding, the way things started to line up from my refusal to step in and censor anything. I just wrote at least 1000 words every day until a first draft emerged, and soon I will edit.

I'm a little nervous for the first edit. I took a red pen to the story I posted here last week, and that took some time. Editing is much more difficult than a first draft, and there's a lot of story to get through. I can do it, but not yet. This week and next week are devoted to short stories. Making the necessary changes to "Bearing the Body," savagely editing "Appalachian Blues," and continuing "Twenty-Ten," which I want to enter in Esquire's Fiction contest. I haven't written anything about that here, but I will soon. I'm working on a story about a guy whose friend believes the world will end that year, based on something he saw on the History Channel. We'll see how it goes.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Friday Films: Nikola Tesla, My Hero

I was going to post something else for Friday Films today, but I just learned that today is Nikola Tesla's birthday! As a way to commemorate him and have a film related post, I've decided to share this clip from Jim Jarmusch's Coffee And Cigarettes, in which Jack White shows Meg his Tesla coil.

Enjoy, and remember: whenever you plug something in, use your cellphone, or listen to the radio, thank Tesla.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Musical Wednesdays: Wilco and A Call for Girl Groups

I think I'm going to make Wednesdays my days to post about music-related things. Since Tuesday is a day for new releases, it makes sense (in my mind) to talk about music the day after. This week, I'm going to kick it off by talking about one my perennial favorites, Wilco. They've just released their new, self-titled album, and unlike Sky Blue Sky, which took me a few listens to really get into, this one was an instant hit for me. I think it's pretty funny that this late into their career, they're releasing a self-titled LP, and it seems like Jeff Tweedy thinks it's funny, too. Why else would he include a song called "Wilco" on the album? That song reminds me of their old song (maybe one of the first I heard by them) "Radio Cure." It's Jeff Tweedy saying, "Are times tough? Wilco: good for what ails you."

As far as a review, it's kind of hard to say anything about Wilco that hasn't been said. If "Alt Country" is a genre, Wilco started it, and by constantly tweaking their sound but sticking close to everything their fans love about them, they've continued to be a respected, productive band. I think their ethos is almost as great as their music: they self-released their album, "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot," when a major label dropped them, and since then they've been touring and making new music. They understand, like record labels don't, that the days of musicians making a living purely off of royalties and selling records is probably over. That was the old way, when old, irrelevant rock stars got fat off of singles they recorded decades ago, before the internet changed the game. Wilco understands that you have to tour, you have to work on connecting to the fans, if you're going to be a successful artist. It works. They sell out every show they play, because they don't care if you download the album, as long as you're supporting the band.

Now, before I wrap this up, a request to anyone reading: I have an idea for a novel about a girl group in the late 1960s, somewhere between the Ronettes and Janis Joplin, and I need a soundtrack and more information on girl groups from this time period. Think the Marvelettes, or Martha and the Vandellas. The band in the novel will be influenced by them, but with an aesthetic more in line with the emergent (hippie) subculture. If anyone has any recommendations for girl groups from that era, the heyday of Motown, send it along to john.shortino (at)

Monday, July 6, 2009

Fiction Mondays: A New Old Story

You may remember a few months ago, when I talked about a story I couldn't figure out, and eventually set aside. This week, in a few spare minutes, I returned to it and realized I knew how to end it. It was like seeing an old friend I hadn't realized I missed, and then finding out they bought a house and had grown up. When I took another look, I realized I liked the characters a lot, the dialogue was relatively strong, and the problem was, more than anything else, a structural issue. I didn't know where the parts of the story went, or how they fit together. I also think the title I had given it, which was "The Pooka" was forcing my mind to go on a certain path that the story didn't want to take. It was meeting resistance down that path, and I was trying to force it. Given that one of the central scenes of the story was a wake, I changed the title to "Bearing the Body" to see where that brought things. I suddenly clicked together: the narrative wanted to travel with the two main characters, to see the other things they experience in the day the story takes place. The protagonist, Isaac, is accompanying a man named Anthony who just received bad news around a series of errands, pulled along until he decides to be an active participant. There's still a bit of the idea of the pooka, a guiding spirit that leads the way, but by abandoning that title, I arrived at a more genuine sense of what the pooka is in the mythological sense: a creature that takes someone for a wild ride. Without forcing it, without realizing it even, the story is about just that. I'm going to post the new, improved beginning here.

When Isaac and Anthony got back in the car, they sat far apart in silence, as though they were each waiting for the other to speak first. Anthony reached into his pocket and took a piece of paper out. He handed it to his driver, Chuy and said, “First the bank, and then this address.” He reclined, shifting his weight so that he seemed to take up even more of the backseat, and Isaac slid over toward the door.
“It’s not contagious,” Anthony said. “You’re making me feel like I’m already dead.” Isaac wasn’t sure if it was a joke—even if it was, it wasn’t one he was ready to laugh at just yet.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have come in there. I didn’t realize the doctor—“
“He got confused. I don’t know how he made that mistake. He should know I don’t have a son, and you don’t even look like me. Still, it’s not your fault.”
“I won’t tell anyone,” Isaac said. “I don’t even have anyone to tell.”
Anthony laughed, and said, “You could tell the newspaper, but I’d never publish the story. Can we eat? I barely had any breakfast.” Anthony tapped Chuy on the shoulder and said, “Take us to eat. I’d like a burrito, if that’s possible.”
“Of course, Mr. Colucci.” They pulled through a Taco Bell, and Anthony bought Isaac lunch. Watching Anthony Colucci eat was not so much like watching a meal; it was more like an attack, the larger man’s face ravaging whatever was in front of it. He wasn’t messy, just efficient: the burrito was gone before they got back to the highway. Isaac was almost ashamed of how slowly he pecked away at his two tacos, like he was rationing them to last the rest of the day.
At least after they both ate, Isaac finally felt that he was able to relax. They had both now acknowledged that it was the doctor’s mistake, and they had shared a meal, so they were both okay as long as they never mentioned it to anyone or each other again. He leaned back in his seat, a poor imitation of Anthony’s posture: when Anthony did it, leaning back in the chair was a demonstration of his power, a king showing how large his domain was. When Isaac leaned back, it only felt like he was shrinking. As they drove, he wondered what kind of bank a man like Anthony Colucci would go to. There weren’t many impressive banks around here, but there were a few rich people, like Anthony, who must have kept their money somewhere. Isaac was surprised when they pulled up to the same bank he used.
“I use this bank, too,” Isaac said. Anthony only looked across the seat toward him and shrugged.
“They’re all the same,” he said. “The only thing that matters is how much you’ve got in them.” He got out of the car and walked inside, leaving Isaac to sit in the car with Chuy. He stared outside and finally said, “So your name…that’s slang for Jesus, isn’t it?” Chuy looked in the rearview mirror as though deciding if he wanted to waste his time answering.
“It’s short for Jesús,” he said. Chuy seemed annoyed, so Isaac kept his mouth closed until he saw Anthony come out of the building, tucking a thick white envelope into his inside pocket. When Anthony got back in the car, he mumbled something to Chuy that Isaac couldn’t understand. It was strange that the sound would travel to Chuy in the front on the car but die before reaching Isaac, right across the backseat, but the driver must have heard, because he said, “Okay,” and put the car in gear. He said, “Okay” in a strange tone: it went up at the end, an incredulous agreement to some unknown whim of his employer.

So now I have a complete first draft. I'm going to go back and edit. Now that I've figured out the heart of the story and the structure, I'm happier with how it's turning out. There's also this sense of place linking a lot of my short stories lately, influenced by the area around me and all of the struggles and changes it's going through. I think,once I take a look at all of my stories taking place around the same area, I want to put together a collection of stories tentatively titled, "Appalachian Blues."

Friday, July 3, 2009

Friday Films: Away We Go

Inspired by Practicing Writing, I'm going to try something new: different themes for different days. I'll try my best to do a Friday post on some kind of movie or movie-related thing, and then maybe a Monday and a Wednesday. Maybe they'll be alliterative, but probably not. Friday will be, so here we go: the first edition of "Friday Films."

I'm a really big fan of Dave Eggers. I've liked everything he's done since "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius." I don't know his wife, Vendela Vida's work as well, but the story I have read of hers, "Soleil," featured in The Book of Other People was good enough to make me want to seek out more of her writing. I also think Sam Mendes is a great director, so I was really excited to see the new movie "Away We Go," which Eggers and Vida wrote and Sam Mendes directed. It stars John Krasinski (Jim from "The Office") and Maya Rudolph (formerly of Saturday Night Live), and is a story about two individuals looking for a home. They're looking not only in the physical sense, but in what I guess you would call a spiritual sense, a place they belong, where they feel like they can do right by their unborn child. I read a few reviews of the movie which were less than kind, on Slate and in the Village Voice (that review was more of a personal attack on Dave Eggers than a real review, a personal attack that I don't think was well-deserved or fair to someone who seems, by all accounts, to really care about literature and fostering the written word), so I was nervous the movie would not live up to the stuff I've really loved, like "What is the What" and "How We Are Hungry." Luckily, I could not agree with those reviews less.

I like when a movie is unapologetically rooting for its main characters, despite their flaws and despite the fact that being sympathetic or sometimes sentimental is not always popular. I loved Pixar's "Up" for the exact same reason. So many movies are made, it seems, for little regard to the emotional core of their characters or their stories. They almost seem to believe they don't need those things, that visual effects or quirk alone will carry them along just fine. This is not to say that "Away We Go" did not have its fair share of "quirkiness": some of the supporting characters were a little over-the-top, but the moments that really resonated with me didn't have anything to do with those characters. What I was really invested in was the relationship between the main characters, and I think both actors, who are better-known for their comedic roles, went far beyond what I expected of them. There's a scene towards the end of the film where Maya Rudolph's character is telling a story about her childhood, and there was something so genuine about the dialogue and the way she spoke it that it really moved me.

There were a lot of funny moments in the movie, so I guess you could call it a romantic comedy. But it seems to be more in line with "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," in that it is a romantic comedy that isn't afraid to explore darker themes and break out of the limits of that genre. It's a romantic comedy for grown-ups, even (maybe especially) if they happen to be grown-ups like myself, who are trying to find a place they belong, and are wondering how getting older and taking on new responsibilities will change them.