Shades of grey are important to well-rounded portraits of human beings. Otto Wall is not a total fuck up. He has a job, a marriage and is a loving father to his 9-year-old daughter Eddie. But Otto Wall doesn’t quite have his shit together either. Just a tad irresponsible and perennially unlucky, Otto’s not quite unreliable, but he’s seemingly also just a little bit… defective. A careless driving accident that lands him in the hospital and mercifully doesn’t harm his daughter appears to be keeping in character. But it also acts as a catalyst for his exasperated wife Annie. So Otto is utterly blindsided when Annie, sick of it all, files for a divorce.
Thunderstruck, the dumbfounded Otto stumbles around trying to make sense of his suddenly collapsed life. He moves out almost immediately, discovers Annie was having an affair, and struggles to keep afloat while still trying to stay in Eddie’s life. But all kinds of women begin to unexpectedly enter his life, and so begins Otto’s post-divorce journey: one full of confusion, marital heartache, liberating sex, newfound relationships, parental anguish and exciting/scary new beginnings. It would be so easy for “Goodbye To All That,” the directorial debut of “Junebug” screenwriter Angus MacLachlan, to get dark and anguished. And while it has its share of pain, the winning indie drama is refreshingly funny, sweet and full of humanity.
MacLachlan already demonstrated a knack for many sharp, funny and dolorous observations in the North Carolina-set “Junebug,” and by returning to the same locale, he scores big once again. But truthfully, “Goodbye To All That” would have worked anywhere. Pitched in a minor, low-key tune not unlike something like Jim Jarmusch’s restrained and quietly funny “Broken Flowers,” the movie is both gentle and yet surprisingly funny and even sexy.
As the broken, but not defeated Otto, Paul Schneider, who deservedly just won the Tribeca Film Festival award for Best Actor, turns in his best performance since his breakthrough role in David Gordon Green’s “All The Real Girls.” Your heart pours out for Otto Wall struggling to keep it together, but his terrific turn never asks for your empathy. A top-notch cast of indie character actors surround him: Melanie Lynskey plays his ex-wife; Heather Graham appears as an old flame raring to go; Ashley Hinshaw is a fuck buddy from the Internet; Michael Chernus is a friend in enraptured disbelief to hear about his newfound sexual conquests; and Anna Camp (“Pitch Perfect,” hysterical here) plays a rather looney new paramour. The movie also features excellent turns by Audrey Scott, Amy Sedaris, Celia Weston and especially Heather Lawless as a childhood girlfriend, whose soothing presence despite her own life calamities opens him up to the further possibilities of life and how to survive.
Sensitive and well-observed, MacLachlan has a great ear not only for dialogue, but capturing genuine and complicated human behavior. In a lesser movie, Melanie Lynskey’s Annie is the antagonist. In a lesser movie, Otto is a total screw-up and his failings are pronounced. But “Goodbye To All That” has an even hand and doesn’t paint Lynskey (or anyone else, really) as the bad guy, because while we’re sympathetic to his point of view, it’s understood that Otto is rough around the edges. Blame and fault is never black and white.
Full of disarming, awkward humor, MacLachlan also understands that human reactions to awful news is sometimes counter-intuitive. A scene where Annie and her therapist (Weston) jointly tell the flabbergasted Otto that their marriage is finished is wry and hilarious. Likewise, when Otto’s daughter tells her dad she doesn’t feel safe or tells him something inadvertently insulting, all the hopeless guy can do is smile and hang on. The joys of sex also play an unexpectedly large element of Otto’s recovery and these scenes, raw and sensual and refreshingly well-handled are just as complicated, funny and well-drawn as any of his other life experiences.
“Goodbye To All That” never dares to sentimentalize, but the performances and tones are so well played that the movie is tenderly wistful in all the exact moments. As Otto tries to find his bearings, navigates love, rediscovers sex and negotiates the difficulties of being a good father as a divorcee, he never quite figures it out. But this endearing depiction of his struggle is really moving, sad and humorous.
Shot in rather basic form with straightforward lighting, “Goodbye To All That” is not going to impress the visual, form or style cinephiles of the world, but it really shouldn’t matter. The content is tops. And as an astute and empathetic portrait of human crisis, resolve and survival, it’s a wonderfully authentic and perfectly touching one. [A-]