Melanie Lynskey is the kind of character actress you're always happy to see. Whether it's been in "Away We Go," ''Win Win," ''Up in the Air" or even something frothy like "Sweet Home Alabama," you know she'll offer a performance that feels accessible, unexpected and true.
After years of strong supporting work, she steps into a lead role effortlessly in the intimate dramedy "Hello I Must Be Going" as a recent divorcee who finds herself unemployed, depressed and living with her parents in the cushy suburb of Westport, Conn.
Director Todd Louiso and writer Sarah Koskoff's film may feel like a familiar exploration of a solipsistic 30something enduring an existential crisis, complete with the requisite indie rock score, and it does reach some pat conclusions. But it's also both funnier and deeper than you might expect at the outset.
Lynskey stars as Amy Minsky, who's been moping for months in the same ratty T-shirt around her parents' waterfront McMansion. But she finds herself making an unlikely connection with Jeremy (Christopher Abbott of "Girls"), the 19-year-old stepson of her lawyer father's potential client at an important dinner party. An actor since childhood, Jeremy is more mature than his years, as evidenced by the confidence with which he carries himself and the casual way he dismisses their age difference. And Amy, conversely, is less mature than hers, as evidenced by the girlish way she sneaks out of the house for moonlight hookups and worries that they'll get caught.
Clearly, this can't last. These relationships never can in movies like this. And naturally, she will blossom because of it, but her transformation is such a joy to watch and her mixture of vulnerability and self-deprecation is so charming that you won't mind the film's conventions. This is Lynskey's movie but Abbott is alluring as well; he has to be to make this thing make sense. He's sweet and idealistic but there's also something sexy and slightly mysterious about him.
The supporting performances are strong all around, though, especially from Blythe Danner as Amy's well-intentioned but clueless mother. A status-conscious Radcliffe grad, she gives advice like: "Getting fat doesn't do anybody any good" as she drives her daughter to the gym. But she's also kind of adorable as she reads a Dr. Seuss book to her young granddaughter in various voices.
Lynskey also has a couple of lovely scenes with John Rubinstein as her father, one of which is reminiscent of the late-night heart-to-heart Molly Ringwald has with Paul Dooley toward the end of "Sixteen Candles." And Dan Futterman (the Oscar-nominated "Capote" writer) is perfect in one scene as Amy's ex-husband, a vapid and distracted entertainment lawyer. Their third-act meeting provides great context as to who she was and how far she's come.
But "Hello I Must Be Going" offers lots of insightful moments and details like that: the smug local girls who peaked in high school and never left town; the white-people problems like being forced to see an understudy when you paid to see Patti LuPone on Broadway.
"Hello I Must Be Going" comes from a sad, honest place. And that's what makes it funny.
"Hello I Must Be Going," an Oscilloscope Laboratories release, is rated R for language and sexual content. Running time: 95 minutes. Three stars out of four.
Motion Picture Association of America rating definition for R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.