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A credibly drawn central character is trapped inside a half-cooked dramatic stew in Hello I Must Be Going. Melanie Lynskey, who has mostly worked in television since co-starring with Kate Winslet as teenage killers in Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures in 1994, creates a convincing portrait of a rather ordinary looking woman in her mid-30s at loose ends after being dumped by a husband she loved. Despite the fact that the woman is jolted back to consciousness by an affair with a 19-year-old guy, the film’s impact is exceedingly mild, making it a doubtful prospect to stir much excitement at festivals or in the marketplace.
The upscale setting of Westport, Conn., and the centrality of an age-mismatched affair being conducted under the noses of oblivious parents produces unavoidable but meek echoes of The Graduate. There is little social satire or barbed comedy in Sarah Koskoff’s original screenplay, only the spectacle of people so into their own heads and lifestyles that they have scant understanding of or support for the needs even of a close loved one.
Hampered by a thin, washed-out video look, director Todd Louiso’s return to Sundance a decade after Love Liza with Philip Seymour Hoffman centers on Amy Mitzky (Lynskey) who, in a premature midlife crisis, is back to square one: living with her parents and without a husband, children, career or prospects. As her mother (Blythe Danner, throwing herself into it) never misses an opportunity to remind her, she should have all of the above. As it is, Amy can’t even summon the energy to buy a new dress to look presentable for an upcoming dinner party.
But she pulls herself together, and one of those present, the son of her parents’ guests, happens to be a brooding, handsome, self-serious acting student, Jeremy (Christopher Abbott), who later in the evening follows Amy upstairs and, without any preliminaries, boldly kisses her. They seriously steam up a car when they next meet, Jeremy’s mother (Julie White) amusingly persists in believing her son is gay because he’s into theater, and a couple of life lessons are ultimately learned in the course of an affair that one knows is not meant to last.
Lynskey does a fine, self-effacing job maintaining audience interest in a woman who, frankly, is sort of a blob and whose inner life resembles an empty cupboard. An intense young man with a few things to learn, Jeremy isn’t a terribly inviting character either, and there’s no comic-relief character as there often is in films like this — other, that is, than Groucho Marx, to whom Amy turns for distraction from her dull existence and who, in a clip from “Animal Crackers,” sings the lyrics to the wonderful song that gives the present film its title.
Venue: Sundance Film Festival (Dramatic Competition)
Production: Next Weekend, Sky Prods.
Cast: Melanie Lynskey, Blythe Danner, Christopher Abbott, John Rubinstein, Dan Futterman, Julie White
Director: Todd Louiso
Screenwriter: Sarah Koskoff
Producers: Hans Ritter, Mary Jane Skalski
Executive producers: Jonathan Gray, Bingo Gubelman, Victoria Guenier, Benji Kohn, Chris Papavasiliou, Austin Stark
Director of photography: Julie Kirkwood
Production designer: Russell Barnes
Costume designer: Bobby Frederick Tilley
Editor: Tom McArdle
Music: Laura Veirs
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