Goodbye to All That

Paul-Schneider

Movie a Day Blog always appreciates when a writer finally gets to direct his own work, and does a good job of it. Angus MacLachlan earns his stripes on GOODBYE TO ALL THAT (2014, Theatrical), an audience-pleasing comedy with enough drama to make the characters and their evolving situation realistic and empathetic.

Paul Schneider, a North Carolina School of the Arts alumnus, like MacLachlan, is cast against type as Otto, a droopy-eyed schlemiel who has the best of intentions but weak-willed execution. Even his name exudes limpness. Schneider, who has moved on from David Gordon Green movies to critical acclaim in Jane Campion’s BRIGHT STAR (2009), won the Tribeca Film Festival Best Actor award for his performance in GOODBYE, and it’s merited.

Playing a kind of well-intentioned loser is a challenge for a usually stalwart actor, but Schneider works hard to keep his character’s head above water, given the unending litany of disasters that befall him. He could have a nice chat with Professor Larry Gopnik from the Coen Bros.’ A SERIOUS MAN (2012) about just what they did to deserve God’s disfavor.

In Otto’s case, he breaks his leg on a run, his wife (Melanie Lynskey) abruptly leaves him, he loses his job and moves to a slovenly new place where he is promptly robbed. Can it get much worse? This does not sound like a recipe for a successful comedy, but this is where MacLachlan’s writing skills (see JUNEBUG (2005), the movie that launched Amy Adams’ career) and his clear aptitude for directing shine through.

Otto goes through a somewhat familiar series of dating adventures in a new, online world, but MacLachlan’s female characters are more sharply etched and memorable than usual.

This especially applies to Anna Camp, another NCSA aum, as the inimitable Debbie Spangler, a lusty Christian woman who is as divided in her desires as Liv Ullmann in PERSONA (1966), along with Heather Graham, and Ashley Hinshaw. There is the usual embarrassment involving a pre-teen daughter, and Audrey P. Scott acquits herself very well in that role under MacLachlan’s assured direction.

It helps to have gone to acting school if you’re a first-time director, and MacLachlan’s sensitivity to his cast, particularly Scott, results in consistently good performances from the ensemble.

Otto loves and learns, but not the essential lessons. One of the few drawbacks to GOODBYE is that his realization comes too late in the movie to be really meaningful in drawing him out of his doldrums.

Heather Lawless, as the woman he seemed finally destined to be with, shows up so late she seems halfway out the door when we first meet her. She’s an interesting presence and MacLachlan might have done better to spend more time with her and less with the bimbos, amusing as they may be.

It’s difficult to do a contemporary romantic comedy without falling into cliches and tropes, and MacLachlan stumbles into a few along the way.

But I found GOODBYE TO ALL THAT refreshingly entertaining and interesting, and its fast pace (a welcome 87 minutes) and smooth performances left me feeling only a little frustrated by the abrupt ending. This is one director whose sophomore film I will look forward to with anticipation.

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