The terrific character actor Todd Louiso—Chad the Nanny in Jerry Maguire; the anemic, awkward record store clerk Dick in High Fidelity—is also a director, a factoid that has till now been said with a heavy sigh. Under his belt lies Love Liza, a grim grief drama not even saved by Philip Seymour Hoffman, as well as The Mark Pease Experience, a notorious star-studded bomb whose opening weekend per-screen average was a shocking $300. (For the record, he also made a not-bad adaptation of Tom Stoppard’s The Fifteen Minute Hamlet in 1995, also with Hoffman, a friend.)
Hello I Must Be Going, Louiso’s third feature, is almost calculatedly safe: a standard romantic dramedy with a grating guitar indie song soundtrack that seems to have been included as per some sick law. That, however, is Hello’s one grating flaw. The reasons for the film’s mostly deserved buzz aren’t because it executes convention well, but because of the idiosyncratic ways director and star (and in some cases screenwriter) muck with convention. Melanie Lynskey plays Amy, a thirtysomething recent divorcee whose extended depression drives her parents (Blythe Danner and John Rubinstein) to scoop her up and deposit her in their Connecticut manse. It’s not long before Amy, bored and restless, finds herself unexpectedly snogging then shagging Jeremy (Christopher Abbott), the 19-year-old son of a family friend.
There are more than a couple traces of Bridesmaids in Sarah Koskoff’s script, which can sometimes revel in Amy’s descent into depressive madness. (A scene where she screams aloud about hitting bottom is followed by one where she guzzles margaritas with catty women she knew in high school.) Luckily, Hello is a case study in how acting can mollify dodgy material. Lynskey, a talented actress who hasn’t had this meaty a role since she was the co-star of Heavenly Creatures at 16, jumps at the opportunity, giving what is chiefly a visual performance: She works mostly in finely calibrated facial expressions, which convey more than the words she’s been given to say. It’s a rich, expressive performance, and Abbott is nearly as good, managing a dashing confidence that never makes his character feel merely precocious. They both come off like actual people, breathing life into a production that might, with lesser talent, have been simply stock.