Lynskey Makes 'Hello I Must Be Going' a Must-See
Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
Actor and director Todd Louiso may well be the cinematic poet laureate of the near-catatonically bummed out. I understand that statement doesn't necessarily work as a selling point for "Hello I Must Be Going," which is not just one of the finest indie releases of the year, but one of the sharpest and most moving and engaging movies of the year, period. But it's true.
His debut feature as director, 2002's "Love Liza," featured Philip Seymour Hoffman going to the darkest recesses of the psyche of a man not coming to sober terms with his wife's suicide. His 2009 film "The Marc Pease Experience," a barely seen picture, dealt with the ever-discomfiting personage of a 20-something character who peaked, and dubiously at that, in high school. "Hello I Must Be Going" begins with lead character Amy (Melanie Lynskey) very reluctantly conjuring herself out of bed after being woken by the sound of a table saw. Once at the island of the very luxe kitchen of her parent's Long Island manse, Amy's mom, Ruth (Blythe Danner), intimates very strongly that Amy has been living in the same red T-shirt for the past three months.
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Amy is not taking her divorce well. It's certainly drained a lot of the life out of her, but the viewer can see something else there. It's part of the magic of Melanie Lynskey's performance here: She automatically gets the viewer on her side. This despite, as a colleague pointed out to me in vivid terms, her character having some traits and coming from circumstances that might ordinarily put one's teeth on edge. Let's face it: Mid-30s woman moves back in with her incredibly affluent folks in Westport to mope for several months does not exactly spell "ingratiating." But when Ruth suggests to Amy that she might want to look up an old friend who's going through a hard time, too, on account of how "her second novel is being published by some dingy press," we know what she's up against.
Sarah Koskoff's script abounds in such inadvertently self-indicting characters zingers, but it's got more than that, too. It's deceptively intricate in the way it frames Amy's soon-to-come unlikely romance against her hotshot lawyer dad's career crisis. After being more or less ordered to get herself together for a dinner at which said dad (John Rubenstein) is entertaining a prospective client, Amy meets 19-year-old Jeremy (Christopher Abbott), and while he's way more seemingly alert and socially engaged than she is, this son of the prospective client's girlfriend is similarly alienating, and Louiso's expertly paced direction of the scene makes the Amy-Jeremy clinch it ends with seem like the most natural, inevitable thing in the world.
The furtiveness that the May-August nature of their romance seems to necessitate is one thing. As the two lovers reveal more of themselves to each other (and among the many other things that the movie gets right, rainy-day car sex is one of them), the movie's more urgent theme is articulated with Jeremy's observation that "Sometimes it's just easier to let yourself be what everybody wants you to be." Amy's reaction to what she learns about how Jeremy's mom (the great Julie White) sees him provide one of the movie's most uproarious laugh-out-loud moments, and there are quite a few of them here. But the movie also abounds in quieter, beautifully realized character grace notes, as when Amy and her dad bond again over the Marx Brothers movies they used to watch when Amy was a kid.
As the romance retains its irresistible pull and Amy regains some blush to her cheeks (she tells her mom she's on anti-depressants), the situation that keeps the lovers from revealing themselves turns out to be no less volatile for its ridiculousness. Amy submits to a blind date with a more age-appropriate fellow (Jimmi Simpson), resulting in the most awkward restaurant scene since the one with Frances McDormand and Steve Park in "Fargo." Jeremy tells his mom an uncomfortable truth, or so she thinks. And Amy finally faces her ex-husband, and the real mistake she's made in her life.
The conclusion to the movie is both satisfying and has an interesting, jarring little sting in its tale. It's a superb movie all around, a romantic comedy that not only doesn't suck, but convinces, and it ought to result in more such opportunities for Lynskey, a spectacular actress who often doesn't get to shine quite this brightly. The only liability for this reviewer was the rather conventionally sensitive college-rock song score by Laura Veirs, which just proves that there's no accounting for musical taste even among superb filmmakers.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film
critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various
publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He
lives in Brooklyn.