Hello I Must Be Going is a film divided against itself, really two films in one. The first is a deftly observed character study about a woman who gives up on life, but then experiences a liberating emotional thaw via a confused, frustrated young man. The second is a strained exercise in sitcom wackiness. The film plays like a strenuous tug of war between the inhuman machinery of a wildly misguided plot and the low-key humanism of Melanie Lynskey’s warm yet unsentimental performance.
Lynskey stars as a 35-year-old who has sunk into a deep, paralyzing depression following her divorce from slick entertainment lawyer Dan Futterman. Clad in the official depression uniform of shapeless shorts, dirty sneakers, and a T-shirt, Lynskey lives with her mother (Blythe Danner), who just barely tolerates her presence as an unwanted, open-ended houseguest. To Danner, Lynskey is equal parts burden and disappointment, but she’s roused from a seemingly permanent emotional and romantic freefall by an unexpected fling with a hot 19-year-old actor (Christopher Abbott) pretending to be gay to please a therapist mother who saw him portray gay photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in a play, and decided Abbott must be gay as well. That’d be enough groaning contrivance for most films, but Hello I Must Be Going shamelessly raises the stakes by making the financial future of Lynskey’s family dependent on her father closing a big deal with Abbott’s stepfather, which will allow Lynskey’s doting dad to finally retire and go on a cruise around the world with Danner.
Lynskey gives a wonderfully lived-in performance, boldly devoid of vanity and self-consciousness, as a woman in the painful and rewarding process of finding herself in her mid-thirties, but there’s a frustrating disconnect between the quiet naturalism of the film’s look, performances, and tone, and the needlessly convoluted plot. Thanks to Lynskey and the other actors, the film’s overall emotional thrust rings true, even as many of its individual details feel patently false.