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NEW YORK — In his first film as a director, Junebug screenwriter Angus MacLachlan goes back to North Carolina for the story of a man blindsided by divorce. Paul Schneider shines in the role, stumbling through a dating world that has changed since his character got hitched, thanks mostly to social media. His turn is a fine fit for the seriocomic spirit of a picture that, while less distinctive than the earlier film, should have little trouble connecting with viewers beyond the fest circuit.
Schneider’s Otto Wall is an avid runner who can barely cross a room without tripping on something. After he’s injured in an ATV accident, his daughter Edie (Audrey Scott) asks mom Annie (Melanie Lynskey), “Why do these things always happen to Daddy?” “Because he doesn’t pay attention” is the reply.
While Otto comes across as a very caring husband and father, clearly the film agrees with Annie’s diagnosis. Otto is flabbergasted when she announces she wants a divorce — or, rather, when her therapist (Celia Weston) does, in a comically infuriating scene. The break is official before he can even process it, but a Facebook-enabled discovery that Annie had been cheating helps Otto get comfortable with the idea of dating new women.
Every divorce should be this hard: With seemingly no effort online, Otto has soon connected with three different beauties who want nothing from him but sex. (One of the women goes haywire later, but what’s a breakup without a hot rebound fling with a manic-depressive?) While he certainly enjoys himself, though, Otto’s confused by the lack of interest in deeper connections — something MacLachlan clearly sees as tied to our present mode of friending. His need for something grounded is more pressing in light of his relationship with Edie, who is growing distant for reasons he can’t peg.
Some of those have to do with Annie, and MacLachlan manipulates us a bit in order to make us blind in the same ways Otto has been: Otto’s ex behaves with such cold self-absorption, kicking him out of his home and then expecting him to make everything easy for her, that we can’t help but long for a showdown in which he makes her see how awful she’s being. The film pointedly denies us this gratification, and eventually suggests we were wrong to want it — that although we never witnessed his failures in the relationship, they were real, and his job now is to grow instead of vent his anger.
From this stance, even the most interesting of Otto’s love interests — an old summer-camp girlfriend coping with losses of her own, played beautifully by Heather Lawless — is at best a catalyst, nudging him to be more attentive to the bonds he has before trying to forge new ones. The lesson may be too pat, but Goodbye is gentle in the delivery.
Production: Epoch, Remain Calm Productions
Cast: Paul Schneider, Melanie Lynskey, Audrey Scott, Anna Camp, Heather Graham, Heather Lawless, Ashley Hinshaw, Michael Chernus, Amy Sedaris, Celia Weston
Director-Screenwriter: Angus MacLachlan
Producers: Mindy Goldberg, Anne Carey
Director of photography: Corey Walter
Production designer: Chad Keith
Costume designer: Kim Wilcox
Editor: Jennifer Lilly
Sales: Jessica Lacy, ICM
Rated, 86 minutes
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