“I had the rug pulled out from under me. Or the wool pulled over my eyes. Or maybe I had the rug pulled over my eyes.” That’s Amy (Melanie Lynskey), the lead in “Hello I Must Be Going,” trying to make sense of her lot in life — she’s divorced, depressed, sulking around her parents’ Westport home and not entirely sure how she wound up there.
It’s the combination of Lynskey’s winning performance and writer Sarah Koskoff’s occasional flourishes of wit that help elevate this otherwise familiar story of a sad-sack 30-something trying to figure out what to do next. The Sundance Film Festival can be relied upon to feature a handful of such midlife-ennui films each year — “Hello” premiered there this past January, in fact — but Lynskey and the rest of the cast make such interesting tour guides that they liven up the recognizable terrain.
Amy, a photographer, walked out on her high-powered lawyer husband when she discovered he was having an affair with her best friend. “Walked out” is literal, in this case, as we discover that her clothes and belongings are all still at her old apartment, and she has refused to take a cent in alimony. Her presence is beginning to wear down the patience of her mother Ruth (Blythe Danner), who has seen husband Stan (John Rubinstein) delay his hoped-for retirement after the market crash.
Stan’s one shot at leaving his law firm to his son, and to take Ruth on the round-the-world vacation she so desperately wants, is to land the wealthy Larry (Damian Young) as a client. Over a semi-awkward family dinner, Amy catches the eye of Larry’s actor stepson Jeremy (Christopher Abbott of HBO’s “Girls”), and the two begin a reckless affair that starts to pull Amy out of her funk. Never mind the fact that Jeremy is barely of age, and that his pushy stage mom Gwen (Julie White) thinks that Jeremy is gay.
Story-wise, there’s not a lot here we haven’t seen before, but the acting is uniformly superb, particularly from Lynskey and Danner. Lynskey’s been an actress to watch since her breakout in Peter Jackson’s “Heavenly Creatures,” and this movie gives her a wide variety of notes to play, from near-catatonic to exuberantly rejuvenated. She embraces the character’s frustration and depression-induced frumpiness but also makes the transition back to personhood believable and never overly actress-y.
But while this is Lynskey’s show, the real gut-punch comes from Danner as the uptight and dissatisfied Ruth, who loves her daughter but also wants her to get her life together (and, ideally, the hell out of the house). One of the best and most underutilized actresses around, Danner has played a lot of luminous, WASP-y earth mothers in recent years, but she eagerly digs into this opportunity to play someone prickly and furious. Award-giving entities should take note.
Among his many skills, director Todd Louiso (“Love Liza”) has a gift for presenting condescension in a way that feels life-like and not movie-exaggerated, whether it’s Amy’s brother and sister-in-law arranging a disastrous blind date for what they assume is her own good or a now-pregnant former high school classmate sneering about how motherhood changes your life. It’s his light touch, and his skill with a talented ensemble, that makes “Hello I Must Be Going” such a treat.