Five Favorite Films

Five Favorite Films with Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida

The writers of Away We Go reveal their cinematic influences.

by | June 25, 2009 | Comments

Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida

We have Dave Eggers, who broke into the mainstream with 2000’s A Heartbreaking
Work of Staggering Genius
, the idiosyncratic Pulitzer-nominated memoir
about his journey to and living in San Francisco with his brother. Eggers
followed that up with several more books, the script to Spike Jonze’s Where
The Wild Things Are
, and founding McSweeney’s, a book publishing arm (also
the name of his quarterly literary journal).

We have Vendela Vida, who has written two acclaimed novels: And Now You Can
and Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name. And Vida, alongside
husband Eggers, acts on the board of 826 National, a nonprofit network of
writing and tutor centers for children and teens, and edits The Believer,
a monthly magazine of alt-culture interviews, think pieces, op-eds, and reviews.

Together, Eggers and Vida have written the screenplay to Sam Mendes’ latest movie,
Away We Go
(currently playing in limited release), starring John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph
as a young wayward couple, who travel the nation in search of a permanent home
for themselves and their unborn child. Rotten Tomatoes spoke with Vida and
Eggers for their collective Five Favorite Films.

The Landlord (1970,
100% Tomatometer)

The Landlord
We’re going to be doing this on the fly. We might start with The

Vendela Vida: Hal Ashby film.

DE: And we might have [a] half Hal Ashby list because he was our main
hero when we were writing this movie.

VV: We watched The Landlord together. It was sent to us by Sam Mendes
before Away We Go was being filmed. We had told Sam about our love of Hal Ashby
and some of his other films, and Sam was also an Ashby fan. That was kind of our
common entry point, and the reason we knew we were in such good hands with Sam
as director was because he was seeing the same references we were [seeing] and
had the same idea for the look and feel of the movie. He sent us The Landlord
and we watched it together and we loved it. The color and the tone, and the fact
that it was a real movie taking place in a real specific time.

DE: [Anything in Ashby’s] body of work is always recognizably him, but
it’s pretty elastic. Like Being There is very different than Shampoo in a lot of
ways. There’s a little bit of the surreal that can enter in, but at the same
time, they’re very grounded and very of their time, and have a certain gritty
feel to them. They’re not so clean. There’s a naturalism there that he marries
with some very bold moves and even magical realism.

[The Landlord] is this movie that not too many people have seen, didn’t have a
big release originally, and it’s hard to find on DVD, and doesn’t have the
reputation of Harold and Maude and Coming Home. But I kind of think it might be
his best movie. Maybe it’s just because it’s so screamingly brave in a lot of
ways, and it hits so many issues. There’s so few American movies that touch on
class, and this just comes straight at you like a train, talking about class
issues, race.

[It’s about] this young man who’s born into privilege, struggling with his
place. “He is to the manor born,” you know? He has money in his blood, and he
can afford to go buy a building where people are living. Just a young man, Beau
Bridges, and it’s probably my favorite thing I’ve ever seen Beau Bridges do,
too. It’s sort of startling to see him in this role as the golden boy, and you
can almost see Jeff Bridges playing it, too. And the fact that this white guy,
automatically, just by the color of his skin and the place he was born and the
family he was born into, has the ability to be responsible for the lives of all
of these far less fortunate or privileged people. [He struggles] with that sense
of responsibility and [tries] to reject it and give up that control, but [also]
do right by these people. I don’t know, it’s so complex.

But [Ashby’s] not afraid to have some very broad comic moments. You know,
there’s a few people who can do it since. Like Alexander Payne or David O.
Russell, a few other people whose work you can see owe a lot to Ashby.

Lost in Translation
(2003, 95% Tomatometer)

Lost in Translation
I loved the mood of it, I loved the dialogue, I loved the relationship.
Every aspect of that film, and I didn’t want to leave the mood of it for hours
after leaving the theater. I watch that movie over and over again just because
of the mood. I feel like it’s so hard to put poetry into a movie, but Sofia
Coppola did that. The ending is one of my favorite endings ever.

DE: It [was] unlike almost anything else before it. I think so often
movies try to do too much, especially when you try to adapt a big, sprawling
novel into a film, and you try to compress hundreds of years or generations. It
can work, certainly, if you’re Kurosawa or David Lean or somebody. But a lot of
times, the best movies are not novels, they’re poems. That movie is just this
beautiful tone poem. I don’t know how many pages of a script that is. It’s
probably a very short script, but she used the medium so well. And when we saw
that, we thought, “Wow.” We kept thinking about that movie, too, when we were
writing, although we ended up writing something much more verbose.

VV: When you see Scarlett Johansson walking around in Tokyo and doing
flower arrangement, there’s so much that can be said by just watching her move
through this landscape, and I think we thought about that a lot writing Away We
The image of these two characters moving through a landscape.

Local Hero (1983,
100% Tomatometer)

Local Hero
Maybe now we’ll split. I’ll have one and Vendela will have one. I’ll pick
Local Hero, Bill Forsyth’s movie.

VV: Not that I don’t love it!

DE: If I had to have one favorite movie that I’ve seen a hundred times,
it’s probably that. I’m not really sure why I first liked it; I must have been
fourteen or something like that when I first saw it. It’s always meant so much
to me.

Peter Riegert plays a maybe 40-year-old businessman who’s in the oil business
and is called and sent up to the coast of Scotland to look into buying some land
where they found some oil and he has to negotiate with the local village. [He]
thinks it’s going to be a very tough thing to sort of uproot all these people,
[and] the comedy is that they’re only too happy to sell out. They’re just trying
to negotiate the price up as much as possible. It unfolds at its own pace, and
he falls in love with this town and with the sea and cares less and less about
the deal. He more and more wants to trade places with the local innkeeper and
move to this town and stay there. A beautifully made film and I feel like there
was a rash of movies right afterward that sort of tried to capture what he
achieved. These people sort of coming to some little town and being transformed.

It’s so touching and so funny and warm, and has so many moments of grief and
elegance and delicacy. It’s got beautiful music by Mark Knopfler. That might
have been the first movie that I felt that strongly about at that sort of
formative time. But it’s very strange to feel like that’s the movie, you know?
It doesn’t have some young protagonist. [But] from then on I was obsessed with
Scotland and Ireland. Wanting desperately to go up there, and then when I did,
it was very similar to that feeling. I went [on] a Bill Forsyth binge and
watched all of his movies, like Gregory’s Two Girls, and Comfort and Joy, and
Breaking In, even, with Burt Reynolds of all people. I wish he were still making


(2001, 90% Tomatometer)


I watched it, I think, right before we started writing this movie too. I don’t
know if it’s because my mom is Swedish, and I’ve spent a lot of time in Sweden,
but I love Lukas Moodysson’s Together. I love the realness of it and the people
trying to raise a family in this commune-type environment. I think my favorite
scene is the breakfast scene with people coming down, and they’re naked from the
waist down. I still have that image in my head. It’s just a perfect sense of
reality and shock, and it’s not shocking to them at all, but it’s obviously
shocking to the viewer. But not in a way that’s it’s going for an effect.
They’re all eating breakfast and you’re seeing everyone’s pubic hair.

DE: Did you just talk about pubic hair?

VV: I did.

Victor Vargas
(2003, 96% Tomatometer)

Raising Victor Vargas
We always recommend it to our students. We both teach high school classes a lot,
and most of them aren’t aware of this movie, even though it’s the most honest
and accurate depiction of that age. I guess they’re early high school or middle
school, they’re about fourteen or fifteen. There’s almost a documentary feel to
it. At the time, the [kids] weren’t professional actors, though a lot of them
have gone on to acting.

[Director] Peter Sollett did such a beautiful job. It’s so loose and warm and
real and naturalistic and funny and unexpected. So much of it wasn’t rehearsed,
and they let a lot of that process unfold while they made the movie. The kids
sort of do their own dialogue. But I remember seeing it and thinking, “I’ve
never seen it done that well before.” Usually I think teenagers are overwritten,
written by much older people. Sort of reinventing.

VV: Or they simplify it too much. They take out all the complexity.

DE: Even some of the very best movies still have these caricatures of teenagers.
This was a kind of time, and place — these kids are supposed to be, I think, on
the lower east side — that you don’t see very often in film. It’s not like,
“Here’s the jock.”

VV: Here’s the cheerleader.

DE: [Laughs.] Yeah, I mean, all these things obviously exist to some extent, but
this was just, “Here are people.” And these are four main kids who are sort of
just making their first forays into romance and what it means to be young men
and young women. It doesn’t talk down to them, it doesn’t assume things. It all
sort of flows from within these young people and from the actors themselves, and
it has a humanity that I don’t think has been achieved before or after in
depictions of people that age. So I always thrust it on our students, especially
young Latino students who don’t see a whole lot of depictions of themselves in
American movies.

VV: You also get such a sense of summer in the city. The heat, the pavement, the
flamingo and the swimming pool, how refreshing that feels. It such a hard thing
to translate.

DE: That’s exactly right. Because, you know, he filmed it in the exact places
where it was set. That’s what Sollett does great, and he did it really well with
Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, too, filming everything on location so it
feels true. I think he owes something to French New Wave. I know it seems like a
stretch, but there’s just something so real and true about the way he chooses to
film and find his way on location and with a lot of improvisation. It takes a
real artist to pull that off.

But, you know, we’re in our late thirties now. Maybe we’re too far away. I’m
sure I could show Raising Victor Vargas to a sixteen-year-old student of mine
and they’d be like, “No, no, it’s not like that at all.” It’s all very
subjective. But I thought Nick and Norah felt a bit like Lost in Translation.
The cinematography was similar. We really liked it even though it’s a world away
from where we are now. I can imagine somebody who’s 21 feeling different about
it. But it worked for us.

Away We Go
, written
by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, currently in limited release. For more Five Favorite Films, visit our archive.