Reviewed at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival
Two terrific actresses made their feature film debuts in Peter Jackson's 1994 film Heavenly Creatures. One of them was Kate Winslet, and well, you know what happened to her. The other was Melanie Lynskey, who went on to a decidedly lower-profile career than her co-star's; rather than sinking on the Titanic and winning Oscars, Lynskey has become one of the most valuable utility players in film (and television), giving brief but memorable jolts to pictures like Shattered Glass, Away We Go, and Win Win. I've yet to see a film that wasn't better because she was in it; I've also yet to see a film that seemed to take full advantage of her gifts. Hello I Must Be Going, thankfully, is that film, and the fact that someone was finally smart enough to give Lynskey a hearty leading role is reason enough to excuse the picture's occasional faults.
The someone who got smart was director Todd Louiso (also an occasional actor, best remembered as meek "Dick" in High Fidelity), and it's not the first time he's put a supporting MVP into the spotlight; his feature directorial debut was Love Liza, the 2002 film which finally gave Philip Seymour Hoffman a chance to shine. In this case, the casting is key. Lynskey's character, Amy Minsky, is a tough case--as one character delicately puts it, she's "having a hard time at the moment." She's crashing in her parents' spare bedroom while going through a divorce, spending her days sleeping, being depressed, and watching One Day at a Time reruns and old Marx Brothers movies. The character could easily come off as insufferable--she's a grade-A fuck-up, selfish and needy, and she's intensely self-pitying to boot.
Yet we're with her, immediately; Lynskey is just a likable performer, and she engages the audience from the first frame, with her off-kilter line readings and warm, open face. She never overplays, but her mug is her best weapon, whether conveying the thrill of a stolen kiss, the pleasure of an unexpected laugh, or the sudden realization that her ex (Dan Futterman) is, in fact, awful. Watch, very closely, the way she smiles at the boy she's falling for when he says something perfect--and how she then catches herself, and stifles it. A moment like that is what good screen acting is all about.
The boy is, in some ways, just that--a boy. His name is Jeremy (Christopher Abbott), he is a friend of her father's potential business associate, and he's a good decade and a half her junior. He finds himself drawn to her at an awkward dinner party (Sarah Koskoff's dialogue is just perfect here--the awkwardness is believable, rather than that broad, silly stuff that lazier scribes do), and the script gets at something real and relatable about the tentativeness (and excitement) of an attraction that is probably a very bad idea.
Koskoff's script gets problematic in the third act, with conflicts and arguments that are both pat and overwritten, and a final scene between Amy and her young beau that is nearly sunk by some particularly unfortunate dialogue. These flaws are forgivable. Louiso shows a sure, steady, unforced hand as a filmmaker, and he pulls terrific performances out of his actors--Abbott is direct and effective, while Blythe Danner (as Amy's mom) handles several difficult moments with verve. But this is Lynskey's show, and to that I say: 'bout damn time.
Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their daughter Lucy in New York. He holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. His first book, Pulp Fiction: The Complete History of Quentin Tarantino's Masterpiece, was released last fall by Voyageur Press. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.