‘Hello I Must Be Going’ Provides Well-Deserved Star Vehicle for Melanie Lynskey
CHICAGO – Melanie Lynskey is one of those effortlessly sublime character actresses who always seemed destined for stardom. At age 16, she made an astonishing film debut in Peter Jackson’s “Heavenly Creatures” opposite Kate Winslet. In the years that followed, she has proven adept at playing everything from a good-hearted stepsister (in “Ever After”) to a severely screwed-up mom (in “Win Win”).
Yet Todd Louiso’s “Hello I Must Be Going” is the first film to place Lynskey front and center, and it’s about time. As Amy, a 35-year-old divorcée who moves back in with her parents, Lynskey captures the agony of a grown woman whose directionless life has caused her to become stagnant in the dependency of adult adolescence. While her father, Stan (John Rubinstein), overwhelms her with unconditional support, her mother, Ruth (Blythe Danner), grumbles about the liberal arts degree that went nowhere and the doubts she harbors about her daughter’s future.
This is the sort of flawed protagonist that has become commonplace in Hollywood, thanks in large part to the tremendous success of Apatowian comedies like “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up.” The key difference in Louiso’s film is that the character happens to be a woman. Screenwriter Sarah Koskoff has created a thoroughly engaging female character without compromising her less attractive qualities or her nagging arrested development. While HBO has taken long strides in the past year of endearing viewers to proudly unconventional females on “Enlightened,” “Veep,” and the brilliant Judd Apatow-produced “Girls,” women like Amy are still a rare breed on cinema screens. At a time when economic turmoil has caused many to feel stranded by their circumstances, it’s easy to imagine many moviegoers identifying with Amy even as they squirm in their seats. Her ex, David (Dan Futterman), treats her with such dismissiveness that her feelings of self-worth have sunk to an all-time low. She’s so defeated that the mere idea of dressing up feels like an alien concept. To prepare for her parents’ latest slew of sophisticated guests, Amy fixes herself up in front of her mirror and plasters a smile on her face while exclaiming that most popular of expletives (hint: it rhymes with “yuck”).
Christopher Abbott and Melanie Lynskey star in Todd Louiso’s Hello I Must Be Going.
Photo credit: Oscilloscope Laboratories
At its heart, “Hello I Must Be Going” is a love story about a woman who learns to love herself. Her choice to stay unhappily married was one of complacency. She’d rather be a wife than a bachelorette, though it’s clear from her former husband’s body language that he views her as more of a child. One of the film’s best scenes takes place during a typically awkward restaurant conversation between Amy and David, who talks and talks at her without bothering to listen. Futterman’s performance provides the key to Amy’s chronic feelings of inadequacy, much like how Collette Wolfe’s pep talk in “Young Adult” provided the key to Charlize Theron’s over-inflated sense of self. Lynskey’s deterioration in the aftermath of her romantic disillusionment is genuinely heartbreaking, which makes her subsequent transformation all the more lovely to witness.
Amy’s soul mate materializes in the form of Jeremy, a 19-year-old actor whose maturity level rises well above that of his peers. He’s played by Christopher Abbott of “Girls” fame, whose inherent magnetism prevents the character from descending into an idealized stereotype a la “50 Shades of Gray.” It’s especially interesting to see Abbott in this role, since his character on “Girls” shares similar traits with Amy, such as the refusal to let go of a relationship that’s heading downhill. Though Amy balks at the “inappropriate” nature of her affair, the mixture of delight and disbelief that erupts on her face is utterly beguiling. Lynskey and Abbott are so well-matched and their chemistry is so steamy that the age difference gradually vanishes. It’s only once they’ve been spotted together that Amy’s guilt goes into hyper-drive, though Jeremy’s mother, Gwen (hilariously played by Julie White), prides herself on being such an open-minded liberal that she’s not only convinced herself that her son is gay but that she’s totally okay with it. Danner also steals scenes as a woman dangling helplessly at the end of her rope as the world conspires against her last bid for happiness.
Melanie Lynskey and Christopher Abbott star in Todd Louiso’s Hello I Must Be Going.
Photo credit: Justina Mintz/Oscilloscope Laboratories
The comedy that Louiso and Koskoff favor has rich dimensions of sadness, yet also provides an uplifting aftertaste that doesn’t feel tacked on. I was reminded of Louiso’s debut feature, “Love Liza,” which was also about a wayward adult attempting to get over a personal tragedy while living a lie. There are a few twists and turns in Koskoff’s script that are more evocative of gimmicky sitcoms than real life, but the freshness of her characters more than compensates for any shortcomings. As Amy blossoms from an overgrown child into a self-assured woman, Lynskey proves herself to be a star of the highest caliber. Here’s hoping Hollywood will take note.