Big screens usually demand big characters, but here’s a film that bravely breaks the old mold by telling the story of a character who isn’t even the protagonist of her own life. Sundance darling Hello I Must Be Going, one of this year’s best movies, opens today and we had the chance to sit down with the filmmakers!
Hello I Must Be Going tells the story of Amy, a thirtysomething divorcee who is forced to assume the role of a kid again when she moves back in with her parents. After a few months of moping, Amy, played brilliantly by Melanie Lynskey (Up in the Air, Two and a Half Men), gets entangled in an affair with Jeremy, a hot 19-year-old neighbor (Christopher Abbott) who helps her learn some vital lessons about love and life.
Writer Sarah Koskoff’s screenplay is honest and painfully funny, and director Todd Louiso brings her vision to life in such a way that takes all the raw truthfulness and turns it up to 11, so to speak. Koskoff and Louiso are a unique artistic duo in that they both have ample acting experience themselves. That and they’re married. PPLA spoke with the creative pair about their collaborative experience and what makes this movie tick.
The unique storyline and understated hero began as an exploration for Koskoff: “I really hadn’t seen that before, so I wanted to see if it was possible.” Louiso was also interested “to look at the person who is not the lead character but the person who is the observer, the best friend, or always in the background.” Louiso said he admires “films that have a lot of realism but also push just a little bit past that.” As for other directors who achieve this heightened realism without being too “quirky or commenty,” Louiso mentioned Mike Leigh (Happy Go Lucky, Topsy Turvy) as an inspiration. Koskoff agreed that Hello I Must Be Going is “not really naturalism – it’s a very written piece. There’s a slapstick element to it, but it does have a rawness as well. We were trying to create something new in distilling the storytelling to a kind of clear level.”
It’s obvious that Hello I Must Be Going is a labor of love and that the same vision was shared by everyone involved. In true indie-movie style, shooting was full of hurdles and completed in 20 days. “We were kicked out of places,” Koskoff said. “We thought we had a location for a whole day and only had it for two hours. There was a hurricane in the middle of the shoot, so we had to shut down for a couple days.” But in the end, Louiso said, they couldn’t be brought down. “Those things force you to make choices. You have to be creative.”
Koskoff said that by using only “a few houses and a few actors,” the crew was able to “stay very close to the story.” Such a minimalism and urgency allowed everyone involved to “become part of the energy that you’re using. We couldn’t always describe the tone, but we both knew when the tone was off and when it didn’t feel like the movie. The actors also could tell when it didn’t feel true.”
One line that the creative team expertly toes throughout the film is its unconventional central relationship. A 35-year-old woman having sex with a teenager could read as sleazy, but in this situation, it feels natural, sexy, and innocent. The secret, according to Koskoff and Louiso, was the casting. “Melanie is so vulnerable,” said Koskoff. Many of the young guys who auditioned for Jeremy had a “knowing quality” that might have “seemed he would be scamming her.” Louiso explained that on the flipside, “we didn’t want [Amy] to seem too predatory if the actor was too young.” So in the end, Koskoff explained, “Chris just had the perfect combination of sweetness and authenticity, which is what we were searching for.”
The film’s title comes from the Marx Brothers movie Animal Crackers. The Marx Brothers motif pops up a lot in Hello I Must Be Going. When I asked Koskoff about this, she self-depricatingly joked just as I think her character Amy would have: “I knew that if I had a few [Marx Brothers] scenes, that even if the movie was terrible, people would at least enjoy those scenes.”
See Hello I Must Be Going in theatres September 7 and watch the trailer here.