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I miss the Marx Brothers. I miss their centrality to our culture, as they were central in the 1970s, 40 years after their cinematic heyday, when Epstein and Horshack would imitate Chico and Harpo on “Welcome Back, Kotter,” and everyone from Michael Jackson to Hawkeye Pierce to kids on McDonald’s commercials would imitate Groucho. We could all use a little duck-walking and cigar-waggling and leering now and again. We could all use a little poignant nonsense. Last year I asked a twentysomething colleague how much she knew about the Marx Brothers and she revealed her ignorance with her Google search: March brothers. Chico would be proud.
A long way of saying I went into “Hello I Must Be Going” hoping for some knowing Marxian references beyond the title.
I got a few. The film’s protagonist, Amy, (Melanie Lynskey), three-months divorced from her entertainment-attorney husband in Manhattan, and now living with her parents in Westport, Conn., used to watch the Marx Brothers with her father when she was a kid. Now she’s watching them again. We see clips from “Duck Soup” and “Animal Crackers,” with Groucho singing the title song, the absurdity of which I’ve always liked. I laughed out loud when I heard this again:
I’ll do anything you say!
I’ll even stay!
But I must be....going
It’s one of the few times I laughed out loud at this April-June romantic, relationship comedy.
The movie opens with Amy getting up at noon, slumping off to the kitchen for crackers, and then returning to her room to watch “One Day at a Time” reruns on TV. Her mother, Ruth (Blythe Danner), half encourages her, half chastises her to get moving again. She tries to buck her up but brings her down in the peculiar way of mothers. She talks about a friend’s daughter who is now apparently on anti-depressants, or depressaunts as she calls them, Frenchifying the word, legitimizing it, and implies that maybe this is the path for Amy. “Amy, you haven’t left the house in three months,” she says, seeming concerned. Then her real concern emerges. Important guests are arriving for an important dinner. “Honey, I need you to shape up a little. Get something nice to wear.”
To be honest, I only had so much sympathy for Amy. Her circumstances are tough but not that tough. She’s had heartache but no more than the rest of us. She’s been lying around for three months, wasting her life, wasting her parents’ time and money. At some point, you need to look for something to do and do it. You need to find a place, and a talent with which you can make money, or for which someone will pay you, and then do that. Or you do the thing that makes you money and then you do the other thing that fulfills you, which is what most of us do. It can be hard, particularly in our current culture and economy, but Amy and I are still living in America in the 21st century. The luck heaped upon us is still overwhelming.
At the dinner party, which involves a potential client for her lawyer-father Stan (John Rubenstein), the son of that client, 19-year-old Jeremy (Christopher Abbott of HBO’s “Girls”), is the only other person at the table, besides Amy, who looks uncomfortable with the glib, wine-infused conversation. Occasionally he’ll make eyes at her. Eventually he follows her into another room and makes a pass.
Thus every road back to wholeness begins with the distraction of romance.
At some point, fairly early in the movie, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if she wound up where she started: groaning at the start of the day and watching tired re-runs on TV?” I thought: Why does she have to realize her self-worth? What is it about her self that’s worthy? That she’s nice? That she takes photos of rivers? She was going to publish a book of her river photos once. Apparently she got distracted by her attorney husband. What was she doing all the time she was married anyway? Was she working? Where? How did she fill her days?
In “Hello I Must Be Going,” written by first-time screenwriter Sarah Koskoff and directed by third-time director Todd Louiso, Amy never finds a job, or a purpose, but she finds enough value in herself to demand alimony from her ex. That’s her big self-esteem moment. Then she and her mother travel the world together. She’ll take pictures of her mother. And, one assumes, rivers.
Groucho: Do you suppose I could buy back my introduction to you?
June 11, 2012
© 2012 Erik Lundegaard