To play the Sundance Film Festival is as big a boost as any for any sort of independent, but to be chosen as the opening night film for the highly prestigious festival is an honor that is as great as a film can find. With underrated gems such as Chicago 10 or straight up fantastic theatrical features like the undeniably great In Bruges, the opening spot of the festival is quite the honor.
And then there is this year’s festival. With big hits like Beasts Of The Southern Wild being as great as the hype would have you think, there was one film that took to the first spot out in Park City, and is finally finding its home in theaters. The newest feature from director Todd Louiso (director behind the incomparable Loving Liza), Hello I Must Be Going is not only one of the more intriguing releases you’ll find in theaters this month, but it also features a lead performances that is just about as great a female turn as you’re likely going to find this year.
Too bad the rest of the film doesn’t quite live up to that performance’s high standards.
Hello is a drama following the story of the recently divorced Amy, a woman who in dealing with this break-up, heads to her parents’ home in Connecticut to find some sort of solace. However, when she meets a young, burgeoning actor in the 19-year-old Jeremy, Amy learns that she may have more importance in this world than she thinks. As the pair begin to fall harder and harder for one another, their sense of purpose grows, and while the plot may be ripped directly out of any modern independent drama (even riffing, seemingly, on the concept of the ‘manic pixie dream girl,’ just switching genders), there is truly a lot to be had below this film’s surface.
Starring Melanie Lynskey, it is not only her performance that the film relies entirely on (she is, afterall, in every single scene), but it’s this performance that is both absolutely fantastic, and will hopefully spawn one hell of a career for the underrated actress. Best known for her time on Two And A Half Men, she is absolutely fantastic here. Taking on a role that seems as cliché as this film’s premise, she adds a great deal of truth and depth to an otherwise thankless character, and her entire arc feels effective and expansive. She has such a beautiful, but unconventionally emotive face, that even in the moments where she isn’t asked to speak, you get a sense of her motivations, emotion and state of mind, far greater than any speech any other actor in this film is able to give.
Across from her is Christopher Abbott as Jeremy, and while there are moments in this film where you can visibly see him making choices about where he is going with this character, the chemistry that he shares with Lynskey is palpable and instantly believable. He plays an unfulfilled actor with higher aspirations, and while his performance feels a tad stilted, it’s his sequences with Lynskey in which this film thrives. Co-starring the likes of Dan Futterman and even Blythe Danner, the film’s cast is impeccable and makes this film a worthwhile watch.
As a director, Louiso has been behind quite an eclectic collection of features. From the aforementioned Liza to the vastly different and vastly underwhelming The Marc Pease Experience, this feature is not nearly as emotionally resonant as his Philip Seymour Hoffman starring Liza, but is far greater visually and crafted than Pease. The film’s aesthetic is muted, opting for a low-key visual palette, attempting to steep the audience in the world of these characters. However, instead of feeling as though we are flies on these people’s walls, the audience is instead left cold and detached from anyone other than our lead. There are some solid sequences here, but they are entirely driven by the career-breaking performance from Lynskey, as Louiso seems as in love with this turn as the audience watching her will no doubt be. Lacking the artistic touch that a film like this film’s distant cousin, Rachel Getting Married, so brilliantly carries, the film instead becomes a cliché-ridden actors showcase saved by an actor showcasing talents that had, up to this point, not been so brilliantly tapped.
Hello I Must Be Going is every bit as good as the majority of films that you’ll find coming out of Park City, Utah, during a given Sundance Film Festival. Featuring a performance that should (but likely won’t) be talked about come awards season, Hello may falter in the hands of a director not quite sure of where he wants to take his film visually and thematically, but is saved by one hell of a lead performance. Inherently a film about finding your purpose in life through interactions with another, the film may not be as visually resonant as one would hope, but like any good drama, it’s the emotional gut punch that makes it all worth watching.