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The Big Nil

“Away We Go” bears the charm of that last pregnancy movie you liked.

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There's no need for alarm just yet, but I'm keeping my eye on the disturbing trend for comic indie dramas bearing agendas on prenatal care.

I'm not the first to point out the similarities between “Away We Go,” making its way to local box offices through limited release, and 2007's runaway hit “Juno.” Pregnant leading lady? Check. Coming-of-age subject matter? Check. Quirky peeps including character actor Allison Janney? Yep. Hip soundtrack? Oh yes. Both even come with cutesy promotional materials that look like they could have been drawn by the same graphic artist. The difference between them? In “Juno” we got the nail-biting story of who should raise a baby. This time we learn where a baby should be raised. I'm writing a screenplay about trading babies on the black market, if anyone is interested.

For anyone who couldn't give a rat's ass what happens to the baby, the movie offers freaks and geeks aplenty to act silly for your amusement. For starters there are the leads, newly baby-bound Burt (John Krasinski of “The Office”) and Verona (Maya Rudolph of “Saturday Night Live”), a couple of T-shirt-and-flip-flop-wearing nonconformists who take off on a multicity search for the right place to nest after Burt's kooky parents (Jeff Daniels and Catherine O'Hara) announce they're moving to Europe a month before the baby is due. Realism isn't about to be born in this movie anytime soon.

Luckily for the expectant couple, all their friends and relatives live in different yet interesting cities. Most of them are already knee-deep in child rearing, and most are uniformly weird to the point of encouraging the couple to live elsewhere.

The movie was written by author Dave Eggers (boding ill for the forthcoming “Where the Wild Things Are”) and directed by Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”), but the result of this collaboration between noted examiners of the American condition is less a beautiful friendship and more an awkward business arrangement.

Though filled with some genuinely funny moments, those reside side-by-side with some unbelievably cloying and mawkish ones in service of such big revelations as the unfairness of life. The generically titled movie wants to be a witty travelogue and poignant melodrama, but it turns out to be more of a forced march through goofy shenanigans, pretentious navel-gazing and shameless pandering. This is necessary viewing only for the most easily entertained, or maybe big-time fans of Alexi Murdoch, the lo-fi folkie who dominates the soundtrack. He's a good excuse to enjoy “Away We Go” with your eyes closed. (R) 97 min. HHIII S

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