Five Favorite Films with Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida

The writers of Away We Go reveal their cinematic influences.

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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 Go 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 LandlordDave Eggers: We're going to be doing this on the fly. We might start with The Landlord.

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 TranslationVV: 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 Go. The image of these two characters moving through a landscape.

Local Hero (1983, 100% Tomatometer)
Local HeroDE: 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 movies.

Together (2001, 90% Tomatometer)
TogetherVV: 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.

Raising Victor Vargas (2003, 96% Tomatometer)
Raising Victor VargasDE: 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.

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