Todd Louiso's genial comedy-drama Hello I Must Be Going stars Melanie Lynskey as Amy, a divorcee in her mid-thirties. Left by her caddish husband for another woman, and initially unwilling to claim her share of the alimony, she moves back in with her parents (Blythe Danner and John Rubinstein). The future looks nebulous, and her shot at happiness tentative, until she falls into a passionate love affair with an actor named Jeremy (Christopher Abbott), who happens to be around 16 years younger than she is. Because he's also the son of some associates on whom her parents' financial stability depends, the two must keep their relationship sub rosa -- but as the bond between them tightens, the pressure also rises for Amy to break it off, lest it interfere with her father's impending business deal with Jeremy's dad.
We’re on familiar ground here, but execution is everything, and the picture rises, in part, on the strength of its well-observed script by actor-turned-scribe Sarah Koskoff. The gestalt of the narrative sees Amy evolving from a sweet but ineffectual daughter, sans the chops to stand up for herself, into a determined and independent woman willing to put herself first and take care of her future. This, in turn, means relinquishing the fear that her lunge toward happiness might accidentally hurt someone else. The psychological impact that Amy and Jeremy have on one another is critical to this: In several sensitive, maturely handled sequences -- including a masterful post-argument discussion -- we see how the young man draws on his instincts to project legitimate interest and emotional investment that bolsters Amy’s sense of self-worth and temerity. We also witness how she encourages him to turn away from drama and pursue his dreams after learning that he loathes acting. This is a credible, fascinating, and persuasive two-way dynamic.
The film also succeeds thanks to revelatory work by Lynskey. She anchors every scene, and not a second passes when we doubt that she's fully inhabiting Amy's inner emotional life. Here, as in prior films, she not only implies quiet fragility and tenderness, but does so in a way that seems uniquely tailored to her character. The best example transpires in a late scene in a restaurant involving Amy and her ex-husband David (Dan Futterman). At that point, she's in dire need of someone whom she can bare her soul to, and as she starts to put herself out there, he begins to insensitively (and ignorantly) miss the signals with one self-centered snub after another. During this sequence, a gradual transformation materializes in Amy -- an onset of disillusionment, and a meteoric rise in her self-assertion, as the depth of this man's chauvinism suddenly attains focus before her eyes. Although Koskoff eventually has Amy explicitly delineate the metamorphosis to David, this seems redundant -- we've already watched the shift, thanks to the marvelous nuances in Lynskey's body language and facial expressions.
Unfortunately, though Amy's central arc makes perfect sense, Koskoff doesn't carry it far enough. We keep waiting for a scene, late in the picture, when Amy acts on her courage to not only inform her mother and father of the romance, but declare her right to be in that relationship, despite the residual effects it may have on the parents and however they might perceive it. This is what the drama has been leading up to, but it never happens, and that seems puzzling. It's as if the screenwriter lost her nerve to have Amy take this final leap. That weakness restrains the movie from realizing its full potential, and it leaves one unfulfilled and frustrated.
The only other major flaw in the film is the soundtrack: Louiso occasionally laces the drama with obnoxious alternative-pop songs that threaten to drown out the action and distance the audience. Fortunately, the beautiful piano score by Laura Veirs helps compensate for this.
Despite the film’s gaffes, Lynskey turns this formulaic outing into something truly special and a must-see. Watching her, and sizing up the multidimensionality of her interpretation, you realize that she may be the greatest unsung gift to American movies. Although she typically gets relegated to girl-next-door roles, who else could portray average thirtysomething women and exude such palpable vulnerability and emotional maturation over the course of one film? If she were paired with a writer and director unafraid to push her as far as she can go, there’s no telling what she could accomplish onscreen.
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