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Sam Mendes, American dreamer.

Sam Mendes, American dreamer. (photo)

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“Away We Go” is hitting the UK, and the London Times‘ Kate Muir points out the weirdness of director Sam Mendes — a native of Reading — setting himself up to be the premiere chronicler of the “American Dream.”

Muir cites the scolding given the film by New York Times critic A.O. Scott, who castigates Mendes as “a literary tourist from Britain who has missed the point every time he has crossed the ocean”: “The vague, secondhand ideas about the blight of the suburbs that sloshed around ‘American Beauty’ and ‘Revolutionary Road’ are now complemented by an equally incoherent set of notions about the open road, the pioneer spirit, the idealism of youth.”

Not everyone would agree; no less an American sage than Bill Clinton loved “American Beauty” (“an amazing film”). But it’s true that notions of America as an endless open road stretching out to a Woody Guthrie soundtrack (or alternately, as a disheartening series of strip malls and chain stores, apparently the only antidote) are perpetual and annoying. The road trip, the endless possibilities — none of them make much sense to the way anyone I know lives. The truth, as always, is neither that romantic not that dystopian.

One thing that “Away We Go” relishes that can’t be done in England is, as Muir writes, “selecting a city to match your character: becoming an ironic New Yorker, a New Age San Franciscan, a lesbian in Provincetown, a lush in New Orleans.” It’s not an idea that’s very Hollywood, either — big-budget studio films tend to show a shocking lack of regional specificity, with Toronto standing as a generic metropolis, New Zealand turning out to be a perfectly acceptable place to shoot the suburbs, and New York/LA representing most of America, apparently.

The places we’re really dedicated to shooting in are the burn-outs and leftovers. The city that’s gotten the most play in recent years, oddly enough, is post-Katrina New Orleans, thanks to a series of tax breaks put in place. Movies like “Deja Vu” and “12 Rounds” have grounded themselves in an admittedly iconic city. “Gran Torino” eulogized Detroit; “The Wire” anatomized Baltimore’s decay. Hollywood’s lack of regional care is due to financial considerations rather than deliberate indifference, but it’s still weird: why do we only film our blights and our generic stand-ins? As someone who left Austin five years ago and pretty much miss it every day, even a lousy movie like “Spy Kids” gives me a little thrill when I recognize familiar streets. Every American region deserves that thrill, really.

[Photo: “Away We Go,” Focus Features, 2009]

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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