Todd Louiso’s third film has all the ingredients for a slow burning indie classic but the pieces just never seem to fall into place.
The film follows Amy Minsky (Melanie Lynskey) who’s moved back in with her parents after her divorce. At 35, she has no career, no friends and no motivation. In an attempt to get her out of the house, and out of her ragged t-shirt, her mother, Ruth (Blythe Danner), suggests she show Jeremy (Christopher Abbott), the teenage son of a potential business partner of her father’s, around town. Instead of a friendly tour, the two end up in an affair that becomes more serious than Amy expected and, ironically, it helps her come to terms with her depression and aimlessness.
It’s hard to really pinpoint what keeps Hello I Must Be Going from being a great film instead of merely a good one. It has great performances –especially those of Lynskey and Danner although Abbott is also up to the task–, it has a plot that’s universal and it deals with both existential and practical issues. Maybe it’s the music, which is abit twee (cringe) to such a degree that it gives the film a fake feeling of Sundance importance. But, unfortunately, it’s more than that.
The film, Todd Louiso’s third feature following the promising Love Liza and the disastrous The Marc Pease Experience, is visually arresting but it’s script never quite builds to the climax it deserves. First time writer Sarah Koskoff creates a film that is more than just an interesting “idea,” that is, it’s more than just a good logline. It has legs but for a film that’s relatively quiet it feels too disjointed and, at times, unbelievable. Take, for instance, the fact that Jeremy confesses that due to such a great performance in a play where he portrays a gay character, his mother now believes he’s gay and he let’s her instead of convincing her otherwise. It let’s the audience know, in a humorous way, that his mother is overbearing and self-absorbed and shows what affect it has on his life. But for such a grounded film, it seems just a bit unrealistic that he can’t, or won’t, convince her that he’s straight. However, that issue can be forgiven for originality and humor’s sake. Could it happen? Sure. Fine.
What’s more problematic is how the film seems to place the female in society. Amy went to college, majoring in a creative field, and then started graduate school in a different creative field, photography, both of which her parents assumed was worthless. But she dropped out when she married her successful husband and she could live happily ever after as a wife and mother. Similarly, Amy’s mom is going through a crisis as it appears, due to the flailing economy, she won’t be able to enjoy retirement with her husband since he can’t retire unless he get’s Jeremy’s step-father as a client. Like Amy, Ruth’s entire existence revolves around her husband and fixing up the house they are in danger of losing. While not completely denigrating to women, it’s hard to tell if there is some sort of social commentary on how these women live their lives based on the men that surround them, but it doesn’t feel like it. The real reason that it becomes an issue is because it’s ultimately hard to sympathize with Amy at times. Sure, she was dumped out of nowhere and was left with nothing but she needs to take responsibility for herself, which, in Lousio’s and Koskoff’s defense, her mother rightly reminds her over and over again. If the film is pitting Amy against her mother, the future she could have had, it’s conclusions are too ambiguous.
But this isn’t meant to be a complete take down of the film because it does have a lot of wonderful qualities and is better than many run-of-the-mill indies these days. What it does well is to create chemistry between Amy and Jeremy. Although they’re nearly 15 years apart, Louiso is able to show how in many ways Amy is immature and how, in those same ways, Jeremy is mature for his age. Of course Amy tries to diminish the pull they have on each other, but a disastrous blind date with a guy “her own age” only manifests that bond. They are both at a similar crossroads, namely what the future holds for them, and are unable or unwilling to take control of their own destinies.
It’s a timely film that pits the practical and existential and has a great cast of characters. But it also never fulfills its own promise and doesn’t pack the punch it should.
Tags: blythe danner, christopher abbott, hello i must be going, melanie lynskey, todd louiso