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Goodbye to All That

D: Angus MacLachlan / 87m

Cast: Paul Schneider, Melanie Lynskey, Audrey Scott, Anna Camp, Ashley Hinshaw, Heather Lawless, Heather Graham, Michael Chernus, Amy Sedaris, Celia Weston

For Otto Wall (Schneider), life appears to be ticking along quite nicely. He has a wife, Annie (Lynskey) and a pre-teen daughter, Edie (Scott), a good job, and he wins local running competitions. He’s also quite accident prone, and one day he breaks his foot. One day during his recovery, Annie asks him to meet her at her therapist’s. Unaware of what’s about to happen, he learns that Annie wants a divorce (though the reason why is less than forthcoming). Shocked and confused, Otto struggles with the need to find a new place, and telling the people around him. The only positive is that he can still see Edie, and have her stay over at his new place.

Otto soon learns that Annie has been having an affair. This prompts him to consider dating again. He hooks up with an old girlfriend, Stephanie (Graham), when she contacts him via Facebook, and they have a one night stand that leaves Otto even more confused than before. Using a dating sight he meets Mildred (Hinshaw), who will willingly have sex with Otto, but doesn’t want a relationship. When Edie expresses an interest in going to church, he meets Debbie Spangler (Camp), a young single woman he takes to a cabin for the weekend. They too have sex, but the next morning she freaks out and tells Otto they shouldn’t have done what they did (which makes the journey home a little fraught).

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Otto still sees Annie occasionally, but their meetings are brittle moments of cordiality. When Edie begins to show signs that she doesn’t want to stay over any more, following a break-in, Otto begins to feel as if his life is now in complete freefall. It’s only his high school’s 20th anniversary reunion party that offers any relief: there he sees the girl who got away, Lara (Lawless). They spend time together briefly before she announces she has to leave. Otto gets her number though, and later calls her. He’s delighted to learn that she’s divorced, but surprised to learn that she’s heading to Costa Rica to teach scuba diving. It all leaves Otto with a big decision to make: whether to go with Lara, or stay and be near to Edie.

A gentle comedy of sexual manners married to a relationship drama that lacks depth, Goodbye to All That is a movie that most viewers will watch with the idea that at some point it’ll reveal what it wants to say. But unfortunately, MacLachlan, who wrote and directed the movie, never does reveal what the movie wants to say, or what it’s all about. On the surface – a very cloudy surface, admittedly – it’s about a man coming to terms with being single again after a lengthy time being married, and having no clue as to what to do next. Otto is possibly one of the most aimless, laidback characters seen in recent years, his oblivious manner and clueless expressions the marks of a man with little or no understanding of the people and places around him; it’s like he’s sleepwalked through his entire life so far.

His sexual liaisons with Stephanie, Mildred and Debbie should allow Otto the room and the experience to grow as both a father and an individual, but he’s much the same at the end as he was at the beginning, just less of a man with a puppy dog’s approach to life. Faced with women who are more emotionally and sexually complex than he is, Otto can only marvel at the ways in which relationships have evolved since he started dating Annie. As an observation on life in general, it’s pretty shallow, and as an observation of the female characters in the movie, it’s shallower still. Stephanie is all about self-gratification, Mildred is all about boundaries, and Debbie is all about unrestrained excess (with a side order of post-sexual guilt). Put them all together and they’re still not a complete woman. Instead they’re stereotypes, created to allow Otto to express his confusion about women’s needs.

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It’s this confused state that Otto wanders around in the whole time that makes the movie less than engaging. He doesn’t learn from any of his experiences, and doesn’t realise at any point that his laidback, “everything’s okay, I don’t have to try anymore” attitude is what has prompted Annie to push for a divorce. He can’t connect properly with her, or with the women he sleeps with, and even though he has an epiphany of sorts near the end, by then it’s too late, and the viewer is no longer interested.

What writer/director MacLachlan forgets to include is a scene where Otto behaves sympathetically to any of the women he knows. If he did we might have a degree of sympathy for Otto himself, but his relationship with Edie aside, it’s all about Otto. Schneider plays him as a well-meaning doofus, but it’s a portrayal that wears thin as the movie progresses, and by the end you’re hoping that Lara will bring him down to earth with some well-chosen observations about his behaviour, but instead the script has her supporting him unreservedly. It makes you wonder – still – what on earth the movie’s all about.

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Despite some serious pitfalls and and a less than cohesive story, Goodbye to All That does feature some good performances, with Lynskey and Camp making the biggest impressions. Lynskey is an underrated actress and should be given bigger and better roles, and here she takes what could be the shrew’s role and makes it much more rounded and emotional. Camp has a ball as the sexually expressive Debbie, playing demure one moment and bawdily kittenish the next. Both actresses hold the attention when they’re on screen, and both do more with their characters than the script would necessarily allow. And Scott is a winning screen presence, a moppet with a firm grasp on the mixed emotions Edie feels in the wake of her parents’ splitting up.

In contrast, MacLachlan’s direction is solid but unremarkable, though he does show an enthusiasm for shooting the sex scenes that makes all the other scenes appear like afterthoughts, and he can’t quite stop Otto from looking baffled in each and every scene once Annie (or rather, her therapist) tells him it’s over. Corey Walter’s cinematography is a definite plus, with the autumnal North Carolina locations given an extra lustre, and praise too to editor Jennifer Lilly for making a number of scenes feel more potent than the script did (the scene in the therapist’s, Otto and Mildred’s first time together to name but two).

Rating: 5/10 – uneven, sporadically amusing (for a comedy), lacking in focus, but somehow better than a lot of other, similar movies, Goodbye to All That is perfect for a wet Sunday afternoon after a big lunch; if you can ignore Otto’s unfortunate misogyny then you might be able to reap some enjoyment from the movie, but otherwise it’s a romantic comedy-drama that doesn’t know which one it is at any given moment.