Sundance 2012: HELLO I MUST BE GOING Review

     January 20, 2012

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There must be some guy or gal who works at a major film festival and is blissfully unaware of movies that embody almost every indie cliché you can think of.  I’m not sure how that happens.  I’m not sure how a programmer can sit through hundreds of movies, do it year after year, and not notice the presence of a cloying score, well-worn tropes, contrived dialogue, flat-footed attempts at quirkiness, superficial relationships, and all of it done under an inoffensive and totally forgettable approach.  No matter how it happens, it happens, and that’s why a film like Hello I Must Be Going ruins 95 minutes of my day.

Amy Minsky (Melanie Lynskey) isn’t taking her recent divorce too well.  She’s moved back in with her wealthy parents and hasn’t left their guest room in three months.  Her family talks about her like she’s not in the room, she was shocked her marriage ended, and she sees no way forward with her life.  When she’s asked to get it together for dinner one night so she can impress one of her father’s (John Rubinstein) potential clients and therefore get her dad to retire, Amy meets the client’s 19-year-old step-son, Jeremy (Christopher Abbott).  After Amy’s mother (Blythe Danner) makes an inadvertently insulting comment towards her daughter, Amy excuses herself from the table only to be met with an unexpected make-out sessions with Jeremy.  The two being a secret affair, and this leads Amy to be happier, re-examine her life, pick herself up, and if you didn’t know where the film was going from the moment Amy and Jeremy met, then you were probably the person who programmed Hello I Must Be Going into the festival.

The movie never seems to have a good explanation of how Amy is growing up by regressing.  Before she meets Jeremy, she’s regressed in a negative way by moving back in with her parents and shutting herself off from the world.  But when she’s with Jeremy, she’s practically a teenager again.  She’s sneaking out at night, having sex in the back of cars, getting high, and finding a kindred spirit in a guy who just graduated high school.  Yes, it makes Amy feel young again, but feeling old wasn’t her problem.  Feeling unloved was her problem and relying on the affection of a teenager comes off as sad (especially when their relationship is done via montage).  But hey, it gets her back into passion for photography, because the forgotten dream for this kind of character is always something artistic.  I’m waiting for the indie where the main character gets their act together and goes after their life-long aspiration of working in accounts receivable for a major shipping company.

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But director Todd Louiso and screenwriter Sarah Koskoff have no interest in breaking from the indie-dramedy formula.  They don’t really care that we’ve seen this story a hundred times before and that every beat feels stale.  Once again, we have an indie score where the composer was unaware that the acoustic guitar isn’t the only instrument in the world.  And of course, there are going to be some “cute” embarrassing moments for our heroine, although making those moments funny or clever is a bridge too far for Hello I Must Be Going.

And yet despite the reliance on a well-tested formula, the film still creates something sour.  Lynskey can do drama and has stolen scenes in Away We Go and Win Win, but she can’t do anything with the mopey and dopey Amy.  The script never does anything genuine with the character, and if it did, Amy wouldn’t be reconsidering and fixing up her life by having sex with Jeremy.  She would better her life by killing her total bitch of a mother and making it look like an accident.

The only astounding aspect of Hello I Must Be Going is how Louiso and Koskoff have no idea how to create sympathetic characters.  It’s as if they were too busy making sure their crappy dramedy hit all the right beats, and didn’t stop to think, “Hey, maybe we should make these characters a little more relatable by not having them be offensively upper-middle-class.”  Melanie’s father isn’t trying to land a client to save their house.  He’s trying to land the client so he can retire and finish remodeling their gigantic house, and go on a globe-trotting trip with his wife.  You get the sense this family would rather commit suicide than go from upper-middle-class to middle-class.  I understand people of all incomes have personal problems.  Failing to remodel your expensive dining room is not a personal problem that tugs at the heart-strings.

It’s hard to sympathize with sad privileged people, but it’s even harder to sympathize with holding up arrested development as a means of personal growth.  Any honesty Lynskey tries to bring to her character is crushed under the weight of groan-inducing dialogue and melodramatic confrontations.  Amy Minsky is a character with a real problem that’s worthy of a rich story and strong performances.  Instead, it’s treated with all the artificial sentiment and quirks a by-the-book festival indie can muster.

Rating: D-

For all of our coverage of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, click here. Also, here are links to all of my Sundance reviews so far:

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