“Once you’ve flown the nest, return at your peril” is the message encoded in the title of “Hello I Must Be Going,” a mild but affecting Sundance-screened rom com from the husband-and-wife team of director Todd Louiso and writer Sarah Koskoff. As in Louiso’s 2002 “Love Liza,” grief over a lost loved one is the starting place. The movie’s protagonist is a frumpy Jewish divorcee, Amy Minksy (Melanie Lynskey), who, still pining for her adulterous drone of an ex-husband (Dan Futterman), has moved back home at the age of 35.
Amy’s mom (Blythe Danner at full tilt) and workaholic lawyer dad (John Rubinstein), who are respectively (and deceptively) tolerant and impatient toward their directionless daughter, have problems of their own: their elegant modernist Westport, Conn., manse has become a millstone around their necks. Unless he clinches a business deal, dad won’t be able to retire and fulfil mom’s dream of traveling round the world.
Amy flops mournfully around the house in outsize t-shirts like a barely grown-up older sister of Lena Dunham’s aimless college leaver in “Tiny Furniture.” (She also could be a cousin of Jordan Gelber’s suburban schlub, another live-at-home loser, in Todd Solondz’s “Dark Horse.”) For a while, the story hinges on whether she will buy a suitable dress for dad’s crucial business dinner party.
As played by the excellent Lynskey, who played Kate Winslet’s sullen partner-in-crime in “Heavenly Creatures” 18 years ago, Amy grows in beauty and likeability as the movie proceeds. She has two factors in her favor to begin with: she constantly watches the Marx Brothers on TV — Groucho singing “Hello I Must Be Going” in “Animal Crackers” (1930) is among the clips — and has a habit of exhaling the word “Fuuuuck!” whenever situations get out of control.
The Marxes’ anarchic comedy serves as an object lesson for Amy’s rebellion. Upstairs at the dinner party, she locks lips with 19-year-old Jeremy (Christopher Abbott), a reluctant actor, and subsequently hooks up with him. Since Jeremy’s mom is dating the businessman Amy’s dad is wooing, the clandestine affair could potentially scupper dad’s deal.
“Hello I Must Be Going” is closer in spirit to Dylan Kidd’s 2004 “P.S.” than “The Graduate” in that Amy and Jeremy’s thing is a plausibly sexy summer-spring romance rather than a soulless MILF scenario, and one that liberates Amy emotionally and intellectually while bringing on fresh crises. Its very reasonableness throws into relief the bourgeois complacency and materialism of the “grown-ups,” who include Amy’s sneering, self-centered brother.
At the end, however, there’s an unexpected merging of generational values that some viewers might regard as a cop-out. Given Amy’s age and her middle-class bearing, anarchy is not really a long-term option for her, though she learns enough to resurrect an arty vocation. Infinitely better than most Hollywood rom coms, Louiso and Koskoff’s sweet “Hello” falls short of radical.
Below: trailer for "Hello I Must Be Going"