If you know the name "PECLB0000008068">Melanie Lynskey, you're already planning to see her in "Hello I Must Be Going." If you don't, this film will have you making up for lost time. That's how good an actress she is.
Lynskey's career began unforgettably in 1994 when she and fellow teen Kate Winslet costarred in Peter Jackson's unsettling "Heavenly Creatures." But while Winslet's profile went sky-high three years later when she intoxicated Leonardo DiCaprio in "Titanic," Lynskey's career has been more under the radar.
Still, she played George Clooney's sister in "Up in the Air," Charlie Sheen's stalker Rose in "Two and a Half Men" and, most memorably, a disaffected mother in Tom McCarthy's "Win Win." Now Lynskey gets to be the focus of an entire film, and her performance is so convincing it makes a rather standard production well worth seeing.
As written by Sarah Koskoff and directed by Todd Louiso, "Hello I Must Be Going" begins with Lynskey's character, Amy, in classic couch potato mode. She's 35 and back in her parents' showplace house in Westport, Conn., after her marriage to a Manhattan mover and shaker falls apart.
Though Amy periodically reminds people, "I'm having a hard time at the moment," her parents, most specifically her decor-obsessed mother, Ruth (Blythe Danner), are losing patience with a daughter who has not left the house in three months. When Amy insists, "I'm not living here, I'm staying here," her mother snaps back, "At some point I don't know what the difference is."
Though there is something of the sad sack about the soft Amy, Lynskey inhabits the role so completely, brings such exquisite naturalness to her performance, that she becomes someone we root for unreservedly. There is a nice spark to Amy's personality that shines through the more beaten-down qualities, especially when she displays a late-night fondness for the work of the Marx Brothers (hence the film's title, taken from a trademark song Groucho first sang in "Animal Crackers.")
It's an impending at-home dinner that Amy must attend that finally gets her out of the house in search of suitable clothing. There's a big New York client that her father Stan (John Rubinstein) has to snag if he is going to be able to retire and accompany Ruth on a Gallivanting the Globe world tour she has her eye on. Everyone has to get on the team, including Amy.
That dinner is a real family affair, as the New York client and his wife bring their 19-year-old son, Jeremy (Christopher Abbott), a promising actor who plays cheerful Mr. Green in the popular kids show "In the Garden."
An intense, super-serious young man, Jeremy comes to Amy's defense during a dinner-table conversation. More than that, he makes a serious pass at her when they have a moment alone, and before you can say "Harold and Maude," they have begun a passionate and very secret affair.
Abbott, who can be seen in HBO's "Girls" and had a role in "Martha Marcy May Marlene," is exceptionally well cast as Jeremy. Maybe too much so. Jeremy and Amy seem so good together, as they share confidences and help each other get on with life, that we forget there is any kind of age difference between them (in reality the gap between the actors is closer to 10 years). Which maybe is the point.
Although the first sections of "Hello I Must Be Going" are nicely done, with a sweet sense of humor, the scenario develops problems as it goes on. The characterizations of Amy and Jeremy couldn't be improved on, but the other protagonists (especially the older ones) are more broadly drawn and even verge on caricature at times.
Also, though the coming together of Amy and Jeremy is well-crafted, once they become a couple, albeit a clandestine one, their trajectory becomes more schematic. The film starts to feel plotted as opposed to genuinely lived, something a tendency toward signpost dialogue does not help.
But even though as a whole "Hello I Must Be Going" lets us down in the second half, the pleasure of watching Lynskey and Abbott never diminishes. Amy's personal development over the course of the film may be by the book, but with Lynskey as the reader, we hang on every word.