Lynskey Says 'Hello', Enlivens Forced Post-Marriage Dramedy

Directed by: Todd Louiso; Runtime: 95 minutes
Grade: B-

The loud sounds of renovation refuse to allow recently-divorced Amy to sleep past noon, so she awakens with a depressed sigh and heads downstairs in her parents' airy, posh house, where she deflects comments about sleeping late and frowns at having to dress up for an important dinner party. It's hard not to feel aggravated with Amy while she's wallowing in these surroundings: she's fallen into a marvelous safety net after getting dumped by her husband, yet she's no closer to moving on than she was when the marriage ended. Hello I Must Be Going understands the way the audience might see Amy; in fact, the script makes a point to spotlight the 35-year-old divorcée's submissive stupor. That doesn't stop Todd Louiso's film from creating an odd but magnetic blend of frustration and compassion, a stably-performed comedy about discovering independence and emotional maturity that's kept at arm's length by a woman's problem-causing decisions.

This distance has nothing to do with Melanie Lynskey, who landed on a starring role that robustly utilizes her talents. Amy is melancholy and desperate as an ex-wife who forgot how things work outside of a marriage; she curses while looking at herself in a dress for the first time in months, while her chat with a high-school acquaintance is appropriately awkward once the conversation veers to marriage and children. The disarming look in her eyes reveals an awkward, spoiled, slight woman flustered by the dialogue inside her head, fluctuating as she maneuvers around sniping from her icy mother (an excellent, serrated performance from Blythe Danner) and her tenderhearted father's (John Rubinstein) solace. Lynskey's presence elevates scenes that would fall flat, granting passes to silly moments involving car sickness and heat exhaustion that feel out-of-place. The movie works because of the sensitivity and unease she brings to it, something typically reserved for her smaller roles like in Up in the Air and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, shaping a sad sack into someone halfway likable.

Amy gets a kick in the pants after locking eyes with someone during the dinner party: a talented young actor, Jeremy (Christopher Abbott, Girls), the son of one of her father's clients. She takes the opportunity to show him around the small Connecticut town, an unspoken form of payback for her parents, which reveals how intriguing of a person he actually is -- and how deprived of passion she is. One thing leads to another, and they develop a more involved relationship on both physical and emotional levels, peppered with a few brief but steamy scenes of intimacy in expected hush-hush locales. Turns out, they're both caught in their own awakenings from emotional isolation, trapped in roles they're playing or have played. What's interesting is that it's not a stereotypical Mrs. Robinson-like situation, where an experienced and assertive older woman controls their dichotomy; it's often the other way around, a more mature version of Good Girl instead of The Graduate and mindful in handling their "taboo" excursions. Amy doesn't have control, and the film's more compelling for it.

Sarah Koskoff's script subverts the audience's expectations by keeping Amy and Jeremy's maturity levels somewhat flip-flopped, and her focus on breaking down internal (dis)honesty while doing so offers something to embrace in Hello I Must Be Going. This is primarily Amy's story of recovery, where she learns about the side of affection she didn't catch, or that she lost, in her marriage, and she endures a lot of ups and downs as life takes her for a few hard knocks and reveals who's waiting on her to grow up. Many of the things that worsen her situation are of her own creation, though, and reveal forced happenstance -- both figuratively and literally catching Amy with her pants down -- for the sake of creating a situational roller-coaster. This can be chalked up to part of the film's point, I suppose, that she's thinking less and acting more as she rediscovers what makes her tick, but some of its success gets lost in a recklessly-contrived rock bottom for her to emerge from.

The chemistry between Melanie Lynskey and the rest of the cast succeeds when the script falters, their talent elevating most of the derivative, unsurprising scenes-- namely a rough last acts that skirts the line of genre convention -- where the writing forces wisdom about individuality and maturity through a clutter of arguments. What's being verbally said matters less and less as body language does the talking, especially that of Lynsky's barefaced reactions to Christopher Abbott's earnest advances. There are moments of true intimacy and wit between Amy and Jeremy as they simply enjoy each other, in contrast with the sternness from her mother for not getting back on track, that compel Hell I Must Be Going towards being something more profound, something with a tighter grasp on self-determination for a divorcée being forced to emerge from her depression. It doesn't quite get there in Amy's moments of catharsis and rejuvenation, despite really wanting to, but at least she's a work in progress who won't be spoiling any other parties anytime soon.

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