‘Hello I Must Be Going’: making depression dramatic (& funny)

It was great to be asked to moderate a discussion after a Westport Cinema Initiative screening of “Hello I Must Be Going” on Sunday.

Of course, I had heard about the WCI — an ambitious plan to build a new, multi-screen, non-profit film center in Westport along the lines of Manhattan’s Film Forum — but I had never met its leaders or board members before.

It was a very impressive group of people and I have a hunch they have the determination (and money-raising instincts) to make a go of this terrific project. One example of the WCI’s wisdom so far is having very young people on its board so that the future of the group — and a transition of leadership down the road — seems assured.

At one point in the question and answer session after the film, someone asked director Todd Louiso and screenwriter Sarah Koskoff when the movie was going to be released.

Louiso replied, slightly sheepishly, that the movie opened in Los Angeles and New York last fall and had a limited theatrical release before it was made available via the various movie download services (I caught it through Amazon’s film rental service.)

The fact that this filmed-in-Westport independent film didn’t make it to the area as a theatrical release pointed up the need for an alternative film theater in one of the most vibrant towns in Fairfield County. When I moved to Connecticut in the 1980s, I went to Westport nearly every weekend to see first-run movies at one of the four theaters in town which showed offbeat fare like “Blue Velvet” as well as mainstream pictures.

The multiplex boom of the 1990s crushed Westport as a moviegoing hub because three of the four venues were older, single screen operations.

“Hello I Must Be Going” is precisely the sort of smart, well-observed, small-scale picture that should have gotten a commercial run in the place where it was made (Koskoff, who now lives in Los Angeles, is a Westport native who drew on her experiences there and insisted that the movie be filmed on location.)

There is very little room in the multiplexes for a star-less film about a woman trying to cope with the depression that follows in the wake of her husband asking for a divorce.

We meet Amy (Melanie Lynskey) when the ax has already fallen and she is back home living with her parents (Blythe Danner and John Rubinstein) in Westport.

Koskoff and Louiso took a risk in not starting with Amy before the divorce so that we would have more sympathy for her situation. In 1978, Paul Mazursky took 15 or 20 minutes to show us how happy Erica (Jill Clayburgh) was in her marriage before she became “An Unmarried Woman.” A similar structure was used in “Men Don’t Leave” with the Jessica Lange character reveling in the comfort of her marriage for a few scenes before a car accident claimed her husband.

“Hello I Must Be Going” cuts to the chase — with Amy trying to drag herself out of bed in the opening scene — but the confidence the filmmakers had in their leading lady pays off almost immediately. Lynskey looks, sounds and behaves in such a real way that you warm up to her almost immediately, and start seeing the world through her depression-fogged eyes.

Louiso and Koskoff have a light touch that infuses a lot of humor into Amy’s dilemma. We also see how horrifying it is for a grown adult — the woman is somewhere in her 30s — to be living under the same roof with her parents again.

Amy reverts to her teenage ways, sneaking around town for dates with a much younger man — Jeremy (played by Christopher Abbott) — she meets at one of her parents’ dinner parties.

The casting is superb, with small roles played by some of the best actors in New York (Julie White shines in a two or three scene role as Jeremy’s mother), and with Danner and Rubinstein making the parents more sympathetic than they might have been in less sensitive hands.

It seemed perfect for this Westport story to come home on Sunday to a large and appreciative audience.

Joe Meyers