Film Review – Hello I Must Be Going
So, when exactly do women come of age? When we get our periods? Have sex? Get married? Or is coming of age an internal thing, like when we realize how full of crap we are and need to get our asses in gear in order to rule the world? (If that one is true, then I guess I come of age every three or four months.) Male coming-of-age stories are a dime-a-dozen in the movies; a character of a certain age realizes/experiences/discovers something that will catapult him into a more mature understanding of the world. For women in film, it’s usually a different proposition: they get married or go to the prom as their reward, instead of gaining knowledge that will move them up their personal evolutionary ladder. According to popular culture, men need a transforming event to attain adulthood, but women just sort of naturally evolve. For example, in Pretty in Pink I would argue that it is Blane who comes of age, not Andie. She is pretty much already a grown-up, and doesn’t change much throughout the story. He is the one with the emotional growth. Hello I Must Be Going, directed by Todd Louiso, is the rare female-struggles-to-reach-adulthood story, made even more unique by the fact that the person in question is not a teen, but a woman in her thirties.
Amy (Melanie Lynskey) is sad. Really, really sad. Her successful lawyer husband has dumped her, and now she is living with her parents, pretty much just sleeping and wandering around the house aimlessly. She has no job, and with an undergraduate degree in literature and an unfinished masters in photography, her parents doubt she will ever get one. Her mother, Ruth (Blythe Danner), does what she can to get Amy out of her funk, but Amy is resistant and Ruth is less than subtle in her wish for Amy to just get it together and get out of her house. Amy’s father Stan (John Rubinstein) is the more pleasant of her parents, but he is mostly focused on getting a particular new client for his business. If he lands this account, he can retire and take Ruth on a trip around the world. If he fails, they will lose their house and he will have to continue working. Everyone in her family lectures Amy that she needs to make a good impression on the client and his family at a dinner party they are giving in his honor, and she does—especially on their 19-year-old son, Jeremy (Christopher Abbott). With whom she ends up sleeping. And sneaking around with, and it is through this relationship that Amy develops the skills that she will need to transition to adulthood.
This is a charmingly funny and light film with really good performances, especially by Melanie Lynskey and Blythe Danner. In most of the online material I have seen about Lynskey, she is touted as the “other” girl (not Kate Winslet) from Peter Jackson’s fantastic Heavenly Creatures. I did not know until I looked her up on IMDb that she was also Charlie’s stalker, Rose, from Two and a Half Men. She is much better here than that show would indicate she could be, and her performance as a person who is totally clueless about her own failings is spot-on while still being sympathetic. Blythe Danner is also wonderful as the mother who appears totally selfish, but who is kind of justified in her desires. Her daughter is annoying because she never finishes anything and has an uncanny ability to do exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time. (And she throws up in the car a lot.) Ruth just can’t stop herself from expressing her frustrations out loud, which is not what good mothers are supposed to do. She wants her time now, to travel and enjoy her husband’s retirement. Instead, she has a grown daughter who mopes around and ruins everything.
For all the low-key fun this movie is, it disappoints in the end. The links between what happens in Amy’s relationship with Jeremy and her emotional journey are kind of weak; when she does eventually mature, it’s kind of hard to see how she got there. I accept the ending, because the coming-of-age formula dictates I do, but the script is a little too aimless to make it believable. The real area for growth is in Amy’s relationship with her mother. But while the film contains their big confrontation, it never shows her accepting or dealing with what her mother tells her. It defaults to the romance being the transformative relationship, and that’s a shame, because the mother/daughter dynamic is so much more interesting here. It’s a good film in spite of this, but it lacks the impact that it could have had if the filmmakers had chosen to step away from the clichés.
Final Grade: B-
Also, be sure to check out our interview with actors Melanie Lynskey and Christopher Abbott from SIFF 2012.