Being good

I had been whimpering, collapsing into Bennett’s lap while quietly moaning “You guys this movie is breaking me,” and miming wrist-slashing actions for about an hour and, okay, I concede that none of that constitutes ideal movie-theater etiquette.  But it wasn’t as though I was chatting throughout the movie or shouting things at the screen.  I was just having the exact kind of visceral reaction  that the people laughing smugly at smug jokes were having, only my reaction was negative.

Bleh.  Okay, even I am not fully buying that line of reasoning. I was being a dick, and I was ruining the date of the couple sitting next to me.  I had suspected this might turn out to be the case when the man began gently stroking the woman’s back — lingering, soft strokes — during the previews: clearly, they were there to be charmed, not to hate-watch.  But my suspicions weren’t confirmed until, during a particularly egregious moment of cheesy onscreen feelings-exploitation, I whispered to Marisa “Can we go?  Away WE go!” and the girl next to me said, loudly, “If you hate this movie so much, why don’t you leave?”

It was a valid question.  We wouldn’t have been the first to walk out of the theater. “That is a valid question!”  I said.

“Yeah, like an hour ago,” the date girl hissed.  Clearly, she had assimilated one of the movie’s lessons: that it’s okay to be an asshole if you feel that someone else is being an asshole, because assholeness, in that context, is a way of being good.

This lesson is most clearly taught in Away We Go’s Maggie Gyllenhaal sequence.  Maggie’s character LN (I don’t get it — is the letter “e” a tool of the patriarchy?)  is a hyphenated-surnamed professor of something who lives in a nice bungalow full of Buddhist kitsch in Wisconsin.  Her toddler breastfeeds (we’re meant to find this gross) and she and her longhaired, pirate-shirted husband exude the exact same creepy sexual pretentiousness that Will Farrell and Rachel Dratch do in those SNL “lovahh” sketches.  Except those sketches are funny.  LN isn’t funny, because she’s not satirizing anything real. This is irritating because there is a rich vein of 100% authentic ridiculous hippie over/underparenting that exists, but the movie will not tap it, because that might offend someone, I guess? So when LN condescendingly explains to Burt and Verona, who are visiting Wisconsin to see whether they might want to raise their unborn daughter there, that she adheres to a (made-up) parenting philosophy that eschews strollers because, she says, “I love my babies.  Why would I want to push them away from me?”, it isn’t funny, not to me at least.  And when she says this, Burt (John Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph) covertly exchange a look of “This person is totally cuckoo for cocoa puffs!” and roll their eyes at each other.

Eventually they can’t keep their disdain to themselves:  at dinner, Burt finally snaps and announces to LN and her husband, in front of their toddler, that they are “bad people” who are full of “bullshit.”   Then Verona stands aside and giggles smugly  as Burt grabs the verboten stroller that they’d brought as a thoughtless gift and entices the toddler to take a ride in it.   We are meant to giggle smugly, too, at LN’s comeuppance — except I was too busy trying to puzzle out which couple’s self-righteousness we were meant to be laughing at, to laugh.

This is mainly what Burt and Verona do, in this movie: they roll their eyes and judge and sometimes even punish people for being imperfect. Really the entire movie is them going around the country and finding fault with the far-flung acquaintances who open their homes to them and give them tours of their respective cities.  Burt and Verona are taking these tours because they’re looking for a new place to live: Burt’s parents, who they’d expected to use for free babysitting, are moving to Brussels and apparently there is nothing else anchoring Burt and Verona to their current town, no friends or anything.  At first you wonder why they have no friends, and then you don’t.

Burt and Verona wouldn’t have to be so judgmental if their far-flung acquaintances weren’t all so imperfect.  Allison Janney’s family is too poor, and not in the good bohemian way but in the bad greyhound-racing way.  Maggie Gyllenhaal’s family is too hippieish, and not in the good way that Burt and Verona — who talk about what kind of “birthing experience” they want — are.  A Montreal family is too sad because the mom keeps having miscarriages — oh,icky!  And John Krasinski’s brother’s family, who live in Florida minus a mom who’s just absconded, are just too much of a plot device.  They exist solely to make Verona remember the orange tree that had grown in her dead parents’ yard, which in turn reminds her — over the course of an epic groaner of a soliloquy — that her dead parents left her a big pretty house somewhere coastal and southern.  And this is where we find Verona and Burt at the end of the movie — alone in this empty, isolated home, ready to focus solely on “being good for this one baby” forever, free of the irritating distraction of any other — inevitably less-good — people.

I was totally silent throughout this last part of the movie, so silent that I could almost hear my heart racing.  I was filled with irrational rage, partly directed toward the movie, partly directed towards the dummies who were chuckling at it, but mostly directed towards the girl who’d shushed me.  I had deserved to be shushed, of course.  And I felt bad for being an asshole, because I don’t want to be an asshole.  I want to be good too, but not for its own sake.  I want to be good, but not at the expense of making other people feel bad.

But seriously we were just trying to have a fun time, lady, and if we were bothering you, you could have let us know much sooner.  I would have put a lid on it, because I don’t actually want anyone to feel bad.  You do, though, which is why you weren’t really trying to be good. You were trying to seem good, like Burt and Verona and their creators and everything else that’s evil in this world.

35 comments to Being good

  • but

    you can’t talk during movies ever though! this is high up on the rules for how to be good.

  • Chris

    I love it when your signature hyper-aware self-reflectiveness (I know — it’s a curse) comes roiling to the surface! Reading posts like these is probably not unlike a crack high.

    I have to say, though, that I don’t think there’s anything all that wrong with being good for its own sake. Though I will concede that that’s tough to pull off for any meaningful length of time, especially when trying to be good to ourselves.*

    As for the movie: AWG’s (ten-years-too-late) geek cinema meta-quirkiness apparent in the trailer, the tired rip-off of the Juno motif in the poster, and the Times review“Don’t be fooled. This movie does not like you.” — were all more than enough to deter me. Regardless, thank you for wasting two hours of your life so we didn’t have to. :)

    *Example: I wrote a movie in a somewhat similar vein to AWG a few years back and thought it was great and to read it now is just grating; your review confirmed this; it made me squeam. But it was a good kinda squeam. A cathartic squeam. No wonder it never got made!

  • Another Emily

    Even the -preview- of this movie made me want to slit my wrists. The wretchedness you capture so perfectly here was apparent even in those two little minutes. It boggles the mind!

  • old

    Ive never been annoyed by anything you’ve written, minus this. I’m siding with the person seated next to you.

  • emily

    I am also siding with that person, except I thought she should have said something sooner. But, yeah, I was being an annoying jerk, and I feel bad about it, and I will wait in the future and see movies I know I’ll hate in private. The end.

  • Walker Percy

    Few people are more annoying that Dave Eggers or Sam Mendes. Combine the annoying powers of these two men and you’re sure to get something especially horrible.

    Nevertheless, you should have been arrested. Seriously.

  • “except I was too busy trying to puzzle out which couple’s self-righteousness we were meant to be laughing at, to laugh”

    Hmm, I know the feeling….

  • Linds

    I can’t tell if this is an apology or a defense.

  • another emily

    i can totally relate to you in that moment! but far too often, the person who is annoyed is my friend’s new girlfriend or something equally awkward, and she hates me for being an asshole, and i just end up wishing i could watch the movie and chuckle like everyone else.

  • one sure sign of a poorly conceived movie is when the resolution hinges on the protagonist suddenly remembering something that has conveniently slipped his mind for the bulk of the film. in this case it was extra annoying because that “something” was real estate. “i just remembered we own waterfront property! yay!” THE END

    i wasn’t bothered so much by the smug tweeness or the nick drake of this movie (i was expecting those things, and anyway i secretly like twee) as much as i was bothered by the arrogant sloppiness of the entire endeavor.

    first of all, we were never really told why were maya and jim were on the road trip in the first place. are they trying to find a house? are they looking for friends? is it something to do with a baby? the movie seems to want you to think that they are trying to “figure out how to grow up,” but in addition to not ever being at all resolved, this supposedly central dilemma is never even explored outside of a few endless monologues that i didn’t pay attention to. (ZZZZZs)

    basically the girl next to you should have been happy she wasn’t sitting next to robert mckee. (well fuck bob mckee, and we no shouldn’t have been talking, but STILL.)

    it was funny when allison janney called her daughter a dyke though.

  • also, not that i disagree with you but doesn’t this

    “This is mainly what Burt and Verona do, in this movie: they roll their eyes and judge and sometimes even punish people for being imperfect…”

    kind of describe what we were doing too?

  • NotAndersonCooper

    Emily, Don’t be so hard on yourself. And Folks, how about cutting her some slack; She was chatting in a movie theatre and ceased when she was shushed – a minor infraction and not so different from ill-timed bursts of laughter that get a pass. Where’s the outrage over overlaffers who drown out soundtrack. Nobody shushes them. And this shusher, was she munching popcorn, slurping soda or digesting poorly? What about seat shifters, fidgeters and back leaners? Do they also suck? How about late arrivers? Or seat savers and people in spillover jackets. Don’t forget heavy breathers, lip smackers, coughers, smelly old folk, creeps, kids, fatsos, sweaty guys, big hair, bad hair, bad air, too much heat, sticky floors and lines at rest rooms. There’s plenty of nuisance at the Cineplex. Emily owned up to a lapse in audience citizenship but was otherwise well mannered and restrained, so let’s not send her to North Korean Reeducation Camp yet.

  • emily

    @Bennett yeah, except we didn’t make a movie about how awesome and cool and heroic it is that we do that. We sort of know that it sucks that we do that.

  • Julie


    Well said!

  • Chris

    @Bennett: You, like Emily, consistently make me both laugh and think a little bit. Appreciated.


    “i just remembered we own waterfront property! yay!” THE END

    is SUCH a peeve of mine. Without seeing the film, thank you for taking the time to ward me away from ever making the mistake of renting it out of sadistic curiousity. Sadly, cop-outs like the one you illustrated are like problem #92 out of Hollywood’s Top 100 Problems. We should go ahead and be called what it is: a fucking pandemic.

    Worse, illustrating this to the Ivy League execs responsible for such crap devices would be as productive as explaining the problem of feces-eating to dogs.

    @Emily: The angst/questions of your twenties will be relieved/answered in your thirties. Promise/Watch. That’s grey hair talking, not superiority.

  • Rebecca A


    I have to laugh at you where you consistently complain that the shusher did not shush you sooner. It reminds me so much of my 12 (soon to be 13) year old son, saying there is no need to get mad, why didn’t I just TELL him I wanted him to help me as I carry in 15 bags of groceries/carry one of the garbage bags out to the curb with me/stop and chat with the annoying relative who stopped by for a minute/any other of a hundred things I don’t want to have to TELL him to do.

    But I do have to tell him. Because he is 12 (almost 13).

    That having been said, its nice you just stopped right there and did not give some kind of outlet to your anger at the shusher (I’m vindictive like that, so I can think of a few ways that could’ve happened).

    clears throat and puts on her nicey parent voice:

    “Now Emily, don’t talk in movie theaters okay? People around you will want you to stop whether they actually get up the nerve to tell you or not(yes, honey, for some people it takes nerve to say things like that to strangers, and they end up not getting the nerve to do it until they are really annoyed…and in this case that took the hour you think it shouldn’t have).”

    So. I have been unsuccessful at finding any reviews of the 92 Street Y thing. How’d it go? Aren’t you going to write about it? Can you link us to anything we might want to read about it? (Yes, before YOU get your parent voice on, I TRIED to Google it but only came up with a stoopid Young Manhattanite thing where they seemed to like it but NO, if they LIKE something you do they can’t actually go into too much detail and instead they carried on about a phrase you used that they didn’t know. I had not known the phrase either but sheesh.)

    If my attempt at hyperlinking it did not work:

  • “At first you wonder why they have no friends, and then you don’t.”

    I just watched a great Seinfeld ep about movie theater etiquette (spoiler: they are all assholes). John Krasinski is in grave danger of turning into Zach Braff.

  • Tim

    If I remember American Beauty correctly (another popular Mendes creation), it depicted suburbia as a veritable mare’s nest of dysfunction, depression, lies, jealousies, secrets and eccentricities. I recall the film exploring the darkly humorous aspects of patriotism, homophobia/homosexuality, marital tension, alienated teens and lust/love.

    The point is – all of this is more entertainment than it is real-life. I think the same can be said for Away We Go (even though I haven’t seen it yet). The exaggerated descriptions of the various eccentric characters in the Scott review and Emily’s post sound far from minimalist. First rule of making a serious film should be: stick to minimalism, since minimalism = reality. (For a good minimalist film, one needs look no further than The Goodfellas. While there is a lot of action and excitement in that movie, the characters are perfectly believable and everything they say and do is realistic.)

    That being said, it makes little sense to argue about the intellectual merits of Away We Go. Dave Eggers is one of my favorite writers, but hiring a highly revered man of letters to pen the sceenplay for a Hollywood movie almost always guarantees a back-fire. This is because things which are intended to be conveyed in writing never fully come across when they are being visualy performed by actors. Too much is lost in my opinion, and too much goes over the heads of the audience. I didn’t work in films with screenplays written by Harold Pinter or Richard Russo, and I doubt it worked in Away We Go.

    If Eggers pulled it off in this film, however, I’d be pleasantly surprised. But given the lackluster reviews so far by A.O. Scott and Emily it sounds like he didn’t.

    Thanks Emily for warning us about this dud, and if anybody shushes you in the future you can get even by farting for the remainder of the movie. There’s nothing like inhaling somebody’s gas along with all that popcorn smell at the cinema.

  • john

    Dave Eggers is a pretentious faggot who is so self-absorbed that his book about a child soldier-refugee made me wanna hate child soldier-refugees. When AWG comes out on DVD I will buy two copies so I can use one to smash the other to pieces. And then burn them both. Using ASWOHBGenius as kindling.

  • emily

    That last comment makes people who hate DE look bad :(

  • Rebecca A

    I don’t like the word “faggot” anyway, but here it seems really over the top. Sorry John!

    Also, I am not a modern enough reader to have even read Dave Eggers (or—dare I admit it—heard of him!) before, but I am glad to have missed him.

  • BJU

    Emily Magazine could use some philistine repellent.

  • anne

    I meant “Your review was funny,” by the way.

  • Enron Hubbard

    Agree with your analysis of the movie. The original, Bush-era ending of the script was jaw-dropping in its own way: It had Burt and Verona leaving the United States and hopping a plane across the Pacific to an unspecified, but presumably better country-with Burt’s brother Courtney and daughter Annabelle and Ron and Sue and their baby going along with them. (Ron and Sue are a Jewish married couple who Burt and Verona are friends with; their baby’s bris is another deleted scene from the original script’s last act.)
    The final scene of the original script is a smug liberal parody more cutting than the over-the-top LN sequence, but it’s unintentional. Referring to leaving the country, Burt reflects that “Anyone can do this” which is weirdly myopic considering that Eggers (with all of his admirable community work ) surely realizes that moving one’s family and life to another country isn’t financially viable for most people. When Verona remarks, “I hope this isn’t the dumbest idea ever,” her young niece literally runs by and delivers the last line: “I don’t think it is. I was getting sick of that place.” Kids say the darnedest things!

  • Danny

    I think I’ll avoid this movie. How you doing? Fancy running into you last week!

  • Emily, I caught a preview of this movie hosted by Eggers, Vida, and Mendes (it was for a good cause! His, yes, but many kids are helped by it, foreal!) and man, my reaction was pretty much exactly like yours, augmented by the patina of smugness provided by the Q&A. Apparently, Eggers and Vida were inspired to throw this thing together after coming home and sharing wacky stories about different parents they met while Vida was pregnant with her first child. So the line between Burt and Verona going around in appalled, self-congratulatory judgment of every parent they meet and the real-life experience of Dave and Vendela doing the same was presented as alarmingly straight. Disturbing.

    The other thing that galled me about this damn movie was its dodgy use of race as an anchor for its authenticity – the only good parents are a) black and b) deceased, and the only authentic family experience outside of the couple is the relationship between Maya Rudolph’s character and her sister, which culminates in that scene in the showroom bathtub when they remember their absent, dead parents and set-up the last act “remembrance” of the beautiful ruin these perfect (because dead) parents left for, I guess, them and them alone (the less said about the sister’s inexplicable crush on the Kracinski character’s doofy whiteboy clumsiness, the better)

    It just seemed like that moment in the LN sequence when LN made that cartoonishly terrible remark about Maya being “cut off from the rich parenting tradition of your people” was less a moment showing how clueless LN was and more like a Freudian slip the script was making, and the Kracinski charactter using it as an excuse to drop all pretense of civility and start bellowing hysterically at the husband for not being a “man” seemed like confirmation of this.

    Uch. Anyway. I’m glad I was not alone in my revulsion with this movie and its condescension to its audience and the world at large (could the music cues have been any more cloyingly on-the-nose and leading?) Great review, a good companion piece to AO Scott’s similarly visceral dislike of it.

  • Lara

    When my friend and I saw the preview for this movie, we both independently surmised that the main characters were in remission from schizophrenia or had borderline intellectual functioning. They were so concerned about “being good” for the baby, they apparently lived in a shack in the woods, and they spent all their time staring blankly into middle distance or mumbling to each other. Turns out they were just insufferable jaded snots instead! Easy mistake.

  • oz

    How can you justify behaving so rudely in a movie theater? And you’re actually putting the burden on the people you were disturbing? Some people hate conflict.


  • Rebecca A

    Okay, so I can’t post a comment in the right place.


    How COULD you not have told earlier about the food blog (tumbler…whatever)?

    Your cat is very cute.

    You will make tons of money and buy an apartment.

    That bitch guy is something else. How come he knew that was you? Did you tell people? Not US though. Huh.

    Okay, so it’s summer and my kids are not off yet so I’m filling up my time procrastinating.

  • Hey EmilyMag, you totally can’t post comments on your thingsyouateandlove site. Why come?

    I’m curious about girls-who-blog becoming foodies. It happened to me. It’s happening to you…or did it happen to us before, and our desire to “express” through the world didn’t occur to us as a “food-related” thing until after relationships got annoying and gruyere and toasted bagels from the corner store just seemed so much more “fulfilling.” Is this a process of life discussion? Sex-food-religion? The natural decline?

  • George Anastos

    I loved the movie. Maybe because i’m in my fourties and have lived abit. At first I did not care for Mya Rudolph, after a while she grew on me. I think it’s because I found her and john to be a good fit. I loved the crazy people in ther life. I have many just like them. It’s a shame that you approched the film so synically. some times it is good to go for the ride. If it’s not feeling good, get up and leave. I do find it hard to be in movie theaters these days. There is always someone talking and or using there cel phone. I have worked hard to ignore them, but somtimes I ask them to stop talking. I would have asked you to stop early on. Try and enjoy life. peace

  • Haley

    AMEN to this review!! I thought I was the only one who was disappointed by this film. One can only take so much awkward self-consciousness… I thought when they brought the brother and niece into the picture, the main couple would realize their selfishness and perhaps help him raise his daughter. But instead it was just a foil to how “great” of parents they’re going to be. Ugh.

  • I’m watching this movie now (happily hate-watching in the privacy of my own home) and I kind of can’t get over it.

    I’m trying to figure out what’s going on with this LN moment: she says to Verona “There’s this great Simone de Beauvoir quote, I forget which book it’s in but I’ll find it for you–’one is not born, but becomes a woman.’” LN is supposed to be a women’s studies professor or some kind of feminist and she can’t quite place the most important line in The Second Sex?? Are we supposed to think LN is a fraud, or that all womens’s studies profs are frauds, or could Dave Eggers really not remember where SdB wrote that?

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