Moratorium alert! It seems about as good a time as any to call for filmmakers to stop using earnest indie rock when they want to underscore emotional angst. Since you were busy standing on line to see The Hangover this weekend, chances are you didn’t get around to Sam Mendes’ Away We Go, the indie-rific road trip dramedy that opened in four theaters and grossed just under $130,000 at the box office. (Oscar movie release patterns: They’re not just for the fall!) That’s okay; we saw it for you! While there a handful of problems with the rudimentary script—note to Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida: Stick to books—our biggest issue was with the music. Talk about suffocating! Featuring songs almost exclusively from Nick Drake sound-alike Alexi Murdoch, Away We Go was hampered time and again by obstructive and somewhat insulting music cues. We didn’t need to hear lyrics like, “I have been searching all of my days,” during a scene where Maya Rudolph is blankly staring off into space to understand that her character is a tad listless.
Frankly, we expected a bit more from Mr. Mendes than aping Zach Braff—Mr. Murdoch’s music was also used in Garden State—but we can’t say we really blame him. His musical choices in Away We Go just follow the herd: If you’re doing a movie involving 30-something hipsters, you better have the proper corresponding soundtrack. But what used to seem hip and edgy has now become staid and predictable. As much as we’re looking forward to July’s (500) Days of Summer, we can’t help but feel that the soundtrack (which highlights great music from The Smiths, Regina Spektor and Belle and Sebastian) will impede our enjoyment thanks to its obvious twee-ness. Indie rock is great, but directors have to be careful with its use.
Thank goodness then for Todd Phillips. As if The Hangover didn’t already get enough effusive praise for being a raucous comedy juggernaut, here’s some more: From minute one, the musical choices were an eclectic mix of recognizable gems, from a wide scope of genres, that constantly surprised and delighted. Whether it was music from Danzig or Phil Collins or Flo Rida—whose hit “Right Round” officially became the song of the summer with its use over the closing credits—the soundtrack gave this party film the sense of a real party; it’s like Mr. Phillips put his iPod on shuffle and left to make some onion dip. By being wildly unpredictable with its choices, The Hangover proves that, when done right, nothing is better than simplicity. You don’t need to find the coolest indie band in the world when a song by The Donnas will suffice. Here’s hoping Mr. Mendes is taking some notes.