Whatever Comes Next
Hello I Must Be Going
Melanie Lynskey, Blythe Danner, Christopher Abbott, John Rubinstein, Julie White
US theatrical: 7 Sep 2012 (Limited release)
Amy Minsky (Melanie Lynskey) is staying with her parents in Connecticut. She isn’t an eternal slacker who never left the nest; she left for college, marriage, grad school, and New York City, but has returned, now in her mid-30s and following an unexpected divorce. But saying Amy has “moved back home” would imply too much agency. She is caught between her previous life, where her husband’s success as a lawyer meant she didn’t need a full-time job, and whatever comes next.
Todd Louiso’s Hello I Must Be Going chronicles these in-between times for Amy, often with understated wit. Her parents Ruth (Blythe Danner) and Stan (John Rubinstein) try to be supportive, but Ruth, in particular, has trouble hiding her distaste for her daughter’s current sulking, not to mention her chosen uniform, a worn-out t-shirt. It’s not long before such teenage-style affects lead to more vivid, physiological reversions to childhood, when Amy gets car-sick during a short drive.
At a family dinner with a potential client for Stan, the parents revert, too: they brag too much about their children’s accomplishments and levy implicit criticisms of their failings. It’s no wonder, then, that Amy finds herself relating (and attracted) to Jeremy (Christopher Abbott), the potential client’s son, who seems equally put off by this awkward table talk. Jeremy is an actor about to start his freshman year of college; perhaps this gives him the boldness to lean over and kiss Amy on the sly. Soon they’re sneaking off to see each other regularly.
In exploring the details of this courtship, Hello I Must Be Going may be tagged as a cougar romance. But the film keeps focused on Amy, and Lynskey’s vanity-free (and, as such, quite lovely) performance, as Sarah Koskoff’s screenplay forces Jeremy to disappear for stretches of the film, and he never advances beyond a supporting role. Though this structure frees the movie from romantic gimmickry, it also depends on some familiar indie territory of another sort. Amy, of course, must have some unrealized artistic ambition, and while she describes her photography interests in nicely understated terms (she takes pictures of “rivers, water… mostly rivers”), Hello I Must Be Going nonetheless indulges the tiresome conceit that she might earn a fine, even ideal artistic living if she could just snap out of her funk.
In short, Amy is yet another character who “never finishes anything,” as her mother puts it—perhaps the most over-diagnosed problem across romantic comedies and dramedies, and one of those clichés showing up as often in indie films as in big-studio projects. This trite self-help treatment of Amy’s midlife crisis overtakes relationships that might benefit from more screen-time, particularly her fling with Jeremy, which has an unexpected gentleness in treating both participants as flawed but lovable individuals.
This gentleness is framed by a too-easy resolution and also by Hello I Must Be Going’ sense of upper-middle-class tragicomedy, not unlike Lena Dunham’s film Tiny Furniture or her TV show Girls. Though Amy is 10 years older than Dunham’s character in the film, some meta-textual elements resonate: Jeremy is bound for Oberlin, where Dunham went to school; Abbott also plays Allison Williams’ college boyfriend on Girls.
But Louiso doesn’t go as dark as Dunham, and also not as dark as his own earlier work: he evoked emotional purgatory of a more severe kind in Love Liza, where Philip Seymour Hoffman played a grieving, gas-huffing widower. Here, Louiso has a lighter touch, and his camera catches some wonderful details: the suburban lack of sidewalks when Amy walks downtown from her parents’ house; Amy’s sidelong glances when Ruth dispenses over-the-top affection to her grandchild; the way Amy trills “fuuuuuck!” to herself in moments of frustration. It’s a plum role for Lynskey. She’s so charming that to some degree I forgave the movie its pat implications.