Last year’s Sundance Film Festival saw an uptick in films regarding, weirdly enough, cults and cult-like sensibilities. This year’s theme has turned to an appropriate cousin to the dangers of indoctrination – the crumbling of the American dream. Characters that bought into what they thought they could (and should) get out of life have faced copious crises throughout the festival’s films, and Todd Louiso‘s lovely Hello I Must Be Going distills those big ideas and issues down to focus on just one victim of the American nightmare.
Perpetual supporting standout Melanie Lynskey leads the film as directionless thirtysomething Amy Minsky. Amy’s happy (in her eyes) marriage to David (Dan Futterman) has recently ended, and she’s left with one place to go – back to her parents’ home in chi-chi suburban Connecticut. Without a job, a finished degree, friends, or most of her belongings, Amy is forced to acclimate to Ruth (Blythe Danner) and Stan (John Rubinstein) as they embark on the next step of their lives. In Louiso and screenwriter Sarah Koskoff‘s spin on a “one last job” film, Stan has one more big fish client to land before retiring – an engagement that could be ruined when Amy takes up with the client’s stepson, Jeremy (Christopher Abbott), who just happens to be only nineteen-years-old.
Hello I Must Be Going‘s plotline may sound formulaic (it brings to mind a funnier, earthier take on another festival film from last year, The Dish and the Spoon), but the humor that Louiso and Koskoff have built into their film, coupled with some really wonderful performances (particularly from Lynskey and Danner) more than make up for any originality issues. There is a genuine warmth to the film, and it clips along at a natural pace that should keep its audience more than just cursorily engaged (the film earned some big laughs at its screenings at Sundance’s largest venue, the Eccles Theatre).
What’s most compelling about the film, however, is Louiso and Koskoff’s easy shift from emphasizing Amy and Jeremy’s relationship, to focusing on their relationships with their respective mothers. Early on, it’s clear that Ruth is woefully out of touch – comparing Amy’s issues to those of a friend’s daughter, who is really devastated because a dinky publisher is publishing her second novel. The horror! Ruth’s world doesn’t include the sort of problems that Amy is facing – she’s so unaware of other people’s issues that she refers to anti-depressants as “anti-depressaahntts,” as if they were some nouveau French snack. Jeremy’s mother (Julie White) is just as deluded – a former actress turned therapist, she is, as Jeremy explains it, “really into being accepting.” Unfortunately, Gwen’s panache for acceptance has led to her accepting everything – even things that don’t apply to Jeremy.
As Amy and Jeremy get to know each other (both emotionally and carnally), both of them find themselves attaining furtive levels of happiness they previously didn’t think possible. But, of course, as a film about dreams deferred, Hello I Must Be Going is really about expectations, changes, adaptation, and regression – so even their deep blush of romance must come with some serious growing pains. A funny and honest look at how life never quite dishes out what we’re expecting, Hello I Must Be Going pleasingly tightropes between pain and pleasure, only hoping that its characters will also learn how both of those things must be experienced, often at the same time.
The Upside: Hello I Must Be Going overcomes its formulaic plot with solid performances, genuine warmth and humor, and some uncloying honesty about the nature of relationships.
The Downside: There a few lines that are total clunkers, and the initial attraction between Jeremy and Amy comes across as quite unexpected.
On the Side: Abbott appeared in another film from last year’s Sundance, Martha Marcy May Marlene. More indie cred? He’ll appear in Lena Dunham and Judd Apatow’s upcoming HBO show, Girls.
Snuggle up with the rest of our Sundance 2012 coverage