On the surface, Todd Louiso’s Hello I Must Be Going feels apiece with a familiar American indie formula, as the film features at its narrative center a thirtysomething woman from an upper-middle class home suffering through a personal and emotional crisis. And to be fair, the film encounters more than a few moments in which it comes across like a direct continuation of this recent “Sundance formula.” At the same time, Hello I Must be Going is a sincerely personal take on its subject matter, opting for three-dimensional leads and earned pathos over quirky character traits, cynical humor, or an invasively stylized visual approach.
Amy (Melanie Lynskey) is living with her parents in overbearingly quaint suburban Connecticut while enduring a stage of extended limbo after a divorce with her hotshot NYC lawyer husband cheated on her with an associate. Amy’s father, Stan (John Rubinstein) is attempting to woo a client whose business would ensure retirement and trips around the world, while Amy’s mom Ruth (the wonderful Blythe Danner) grows increasingly tired of Amy’s aimless occupation of the house. At a business dinner, Amy meets and falls for her father’s client’s 19-year-old son Jeremy (Christopher Abbott) and a mismatched rebound quickly morphs into a complicated emotional journey that forces Amy to learn what love is and establish her self-worth.
The above plot description may sound a bit grating to those uninterested in following the unremarkable problems of the privileged, and I have little to say about Hello I Must Be Going that would persuade otherwise. However, what’s interesting about this film is not the sometimes slight interrelations between characters that plays out on the surface, but the greater meanings that resonate subtly beneath these circumstances. The crisis at play in Hello I Must Be Going does not seem to be the literal post-divorce search for meaning that stratifies its narrative, but the unchallenged pressures of social decorum and assumptions about one’s life trajectory that occasionally bring the film into dark comedy territory. While Amy’s might be the most overt tragedy portrayed onscreen, each and every character is eventually revealed to be playing a role that they don’t want to play because they think it’s what somebody else wants them to do. Hello I Must Be Going is a film about recognizing when that process is truly selfless and when it is truly harmful.
Hello I Must Be Going is the first produced screenplay by actress Sarah Koskoff, and the subject matter feels profoundly personal, even autobiographical. Louiso, who displayed surprising emotional depth when working with middling material in The Switch, never lets the camera interfere with his central performers. And that is Hello I Must Be Going’s standout strength. Lynskey and Abbott have palpable chemistry, and are refreshingly embodied sans quirk, snark, witty remarks, or overbearing self-consciousness. Their performances are simple, straightforward, and sincere, all of which make these characters empathetic and accessible.
Perhaps in a few decades or so, we’ll look back on films like Hello I Must Be Going, Tiny Furniture, etc. as in-the-moment depictions of a generation that no longer feels the need to start a career, marriage, parenthood, etc. at a prescribed moment in time, but who, at the same time, experience the malaise of a crisis in meaning as a result. It’s difficult not to see such films as self-indulgent because they display onscreen and in stark literalization an emotional state that many in their twenties and thirties might only experience privately while focusing on contemporary problems that, in the global scheme of things, don’t seem to amount to much. While I liked but did not love Hello I Must Be Going, I don’t find these types of films unwelcome.
If other films like this share the emotional delicacy and strong performances that this film exhibits, then these films don’t amount only to portrayals of an individual in crisis, but are capable of exploring greater, more troubling implications of how we all attempt – honestly and dishonestly, selflessly and harmfully – to cultivate temporary and lasting meaning in our lives.
The Upside: An endearing and sometimes even charming film with strong performances from a script written with refreshing sincerity.
The Downside: The film doesn’t completely overcome its slight, not-entirely-compelling subject matter.
On the Side: Melanie Lynskey is apparently a) from New Zealand and b) a regular on Two and a Half Men, both of which are hard to believe when you see how good she is in this lead role.