Hello, I Must Be Going

An imperfect coming-of-age tale with a spectacular performance from Melanie Lynskey.

Hello, I Must Be Going
Hello, I Must Be Going

Still © 2012 Oscilloscope Pictures.

Hello, I Must Be Going (Oscilloscope Pictures), directed by the actor-turned-director Todd Louiso from a script by his wife Sarah Koskoff, is an indie of a familiar type: a naturalistic, gently satirical coming-of-age tale about a screwed-up thirtysomething who really should have come of age long ago. But perhaps because this time the screw-up is played by the marvelous Kiwi actress Melanie Lynskey, Hello, I Must Be Going feels like something more. Even when the story doesn’t quite make sense—and it’s constructed around a premise that kind of doesn’t—there are individual scenes that are as well-written and acted as anything I’ve seen this year.

Lynskey is, unfortunately, still best known to many moviegoers as “the girl in Heavenly Creatures who wasn’t Kate Winslet.” In Peter Jackson’s 1994 film, based on a true story, Winslet and Lynskey played teenage friends who grew so close they came to inhabit a kind of shared schizophrenic dream world and eventually conceived a plan to kill one of their mothers. Both actresses were spectacular in Heavenly Creatures (as was the movie itself). But 18 years later, Winslet has a huge Hollywood career and an Oscar (well-earned, yes—but did it have to be for that movie?) while Lynskey seems to appear mainly in smaller films, playing secondary “best friend” roles (in which she’s always memorable—her hollow-eyed spontaneous striptease in Away We Go is the only part of that movie that sticks with me).

Here, Lynskey moves from the periphery to the center: She appears in virtually every scene, often solo, and inhabits the screen so fully and vibrantly that the sometimes slight material seems to open up and reveal hidden depths. Her character, Amy, has just moved in with her parents after her husband (Dan Futterman), a narcissistic entertainment lawyer, left her for a woman she considered a friend. Amy is depressed, humiliated, and more than a little passive—she was financially dependent on her husband but has refused to talk about alimony or even pick up her belongings from their apartment. Instead, she sulks around her parents’ swanky Connecticut house in a ratty T-shirt, avoiding the entreaties of her status-conscious mother (Blythe Danner) to get out and meet a nice man or at the very least buy a nice dress. Her lawyer father (John Rubinstein) is a gruff, monosyllabic type, but his love for and acceptance of his daughter is absolute—as she tells another character at one point, her relationship with her dad is the only successful one in her life.

That is, until she meets Jeremy (Christopher Abbott, or, as fans of HBO’s Girls will simultaneously squeal, “Charlie!”). He’s a 19-year-old aspiring actor who’s smart, kind, adorable, and from all appearances completely besotted with Amy. But he’s also at least 15 years her junior—not to mention the stepson of a very important potential client of Amy’s father’s, whose account, should he land it, would finally enable him to retire. This is the implausible central conceit I mentioned earlier: In order to provide an obstacle to Amy and Jeremy’s affair, the script has to make us believe that the knowledge of a fling between these two consenting adults would constitute reason enough for their parents to back out of a life-changing business deal. Perhaps because the screenwriter sensed that that premise didn’t quite hold up in the post-Cold War era, she threw another, equally unlikely obstacle in the lovers’ path: Jeremy’s hovering, overprotective mother (Julie White) has convinced herself that her sensitive actor son must be gay, and rather than disabuse her of the notion, the people-pleasing Jeremy has chosen to play along. So Amy and Jeremy (who also lives with his folks) must sneak out for late-night trysts where and when they can—which, to add to the infantilizing humiliation of it all, is more often than not the backseat of Amy’s parents’ car.

In real life, a young man willing to fake his sexual orientation and conceal his relationship just to make his mother happy would make for pretty iffy boyfriend material, especially for a temperamentally passive sort like Amy. But Abbott and Lynskey strike such believable sparks in their scenes together that you can’t help but root for their unlikely union. Hello, I Must Be Going—named for a song sung by Groucho Marx in Animal Crackers, which Amy watches at one point in a poker-faced depressive funk—is the kind of movie that’s worth it for its best moments, if you can be large-hearted enough to overlook the broader plot problems and overly hasty resolution. Lynskey’s scenes opposite the actors playing her parents—a bedtime heart-to-heart with her inarticulate father, or a harrowing middle-of-the-night row with her all-too-articulate mother—show a degree of intimacy and rawness that far surpasses the usual rom-com depiction of intergenerational conflict. (Danner, especially, gives an exceptional performance in a role that’s a darker, more complicated variant of the warm, breezy maternal figures she so often plays.) But even when the material is too familiar (a drunk night out with high-school friends who haven’t changed, a painfully bad and excruciatingly long blind date, the requisite indie-rock-scored loneliness montage), Melanie Lynskey elevates it with a finely tuned performance that’s at once richly comic and emotionally honest. I hope Hello, I Must Be Going will introduce many new viewers to Lynskey’s charms, and that at least of a few of them will be casting directors.