The word “plastics” is never uttered in the coming-of-age dramatic comedy Hello I Must Be Going. It’s kind of a shame, for Sarah Koskoff’s wry, poignant screenplay evokes The Graduate in so many other ways. Both films unfold in Jewish homes headed by self-absorbed parents and located in upper-middle-class enclaves. Tellingly, none of the assimilated characters in either movie ever says the J word.
The two movies begin as glib satires of existential angst and excruciating comedies of manners before wading into the deeper waters where youthful possibility can easily turn into compromised adult lives of quiet desperation. The main resemblance though, is a central character at loose ends who is drawn into an affair that’s both potentially scandalous and strangely liberating, and provides the catalyst for self-discovery and moving forward.
Melanie Lynskey (Two and a Half Men) plays an ugly ducking who became a perfectly attractive woman yet sees herself as a loser — at least when we meet her, ensconced in her parents’ waterfront Connecticut manse and numbly accepting a divorce from her Manhattan husband. The title of Hello I Must Be Going, incidentally, refers to the immortal song in one of the Marx brothers movies that Amy consoles herself with on late-night TV, and which she and her father watched together when she was a child.
Endearingly mousy and awkward, waking at noon and flopping around in a T-shirt and shorts, Lynskey’s 30-something Amy is a self-deprecating female response to the shameless, selfish man-children that populate so many Hollywood movies. A daddy’s girl to the core, Amy nonetheless recognizes that something’s got to give, but she has no apparent marketable skill beyond a master’s degree in photography (if she were to go back and finish her thesis, that is).
Amy’s parents (a relentless and great Blythe Danner, and a suitably soothing yet ominous John Rubinstein) are focused on landing a major new client so her father can retire from his law practice and they can go “gallivanting around the globe.” To
them, Amy is both a concern and a nuisance who’s landed on
their doorstep when they’re primed to embark on their carefree golden years.
When her parents invite the prospective client and his family over for a casual dinner party, the movie’s most squirm-inducing scene takes place. There’s a silver lining to Amy’s inevitable embarrassment, though: the couple’s 19-year-old son (Christopher Abbott of Girls) comes on to her.
Hello I Must Be Going is not exactly overpopulated with characters, so we anticipate that a kiss will turn into a lusty fling and then a full-blown affair. As we also might expect, Amy’s excitement over developing an outside activity is tempered by her ambivalence about dating a much younger guy and her fear that the revelation of her secret will cost her dad a lucrative prospect.
This is the kind of film in which everyone except the love-struck couple is self-deluded and the object of our derision. Until the final scenes, that is, when Amy’s parents are cast in a new light that reverses our sympathies.
Lynskey’s character, as well as her performance, walks the tightrope between likable and annoying. Come to think of it, the same could be said of Dustin Hoffman and Benjamin Braddock. Like The Graduate, and unlike so many contemporary indie movies about attractive young people fretting over their love lives and near-term futures, Hello I Must Be Going succeeds in convincing us that the stakes — namely Amy’s self-respect and character, though perhaps not a career as a gallery-quality photographer — are real and worth caring about.
Hello I Must Be Going, which opened the Sundance Film Festival in July, opens at The Loft in Tucson on Oct. 12.