Paul Schneider plays it irresistibly oblivious as a newly divorced dad faced with reentering the dating pool
Back in 2005, “Junebug” launched more than just Amy Adams’ career, though writer Angus MacLachlan has taken considerably longer to follow through on the charming, human-centric sensibility auds found so appealing about his first feature-length script. Now, nearly a decade later, the North Carolina scribe makes the transition to directing with “Goodbye to All That,” another gently relatable, regionally inclined dramedy, this one concerning a semi-oblivious husband (Paul Schneider) caught completely off-guard when his wife (Melanie Lynskey) files for divorce. While too low-concept to support an easy marketing play, this amiable indie rewards adult auds who’ve outgrown cookie-cutter romantic comedies.
Schneider earned an acting prize at the Tribeca Fim Festival for his irresistible portrayal of Otto Wall, an ordinary guy in his late 30s who spent entire decades of his life uncertain what he wanted, but now, as a husband and father, is pretty sure he’s figured it all out — which is precisely why it comes as such a shock that his wife, Annie, is unhappy. Though MacLachlan tells the story almost entirely from Otto’s p.o.v., early scenes provide clues that Lynskey’s character has already checked out of their marriage.
Later, as if in solidarity with its protagonist, the film seems to turn against Annie, but there’s something heartbreaking in her body language at the outset: This is what falling out of love looks like. It’s not screaming matches and altercations; it’s apathy and indifference. And though she ambushes him in the worst possible way — inviting Otto to a counseling session, where her therapist (Celia Weston, playing a character deserving of her own sitcom) does the dirty work — we’ve already seen that she was over it. Otto was merely too oblivious to notice.
As the wronged party, Otto is now free to reenter the dating pool as a middle-aged man. And though he’d clearly be more comfortable finding another compatible life partner, he’s instead astonished to discover how easily sex comes to him now that the ladies are a little older and a bit more liberated. There’s the old flame (Heather Graham), newly divorced and looking for a no-strings-attached fling; the online hookup (Ashley Hinshaw), a young self-starter who hardly even needs Otto to get off; the conflicted church girl (Anna Camp), who has serious trouble dealing with temptation — to say nothing of the mixed-message boss (Amy Sedaris) who pulls Otto into the closet to coach him on what to expect from divorced life.
Collectively, these experiences sound like tales someone might spin for buddies at the bar, like an extended joke about how much fun a man with no attachments can have at Otto’s age. Of course, the exact same encounters might border on tragic if he’d been playing the field all along. Heck, they border on tragic now, since Otto is clearly looking for more than sex — plenty obvious in the way he perks up at the idea of reuniting with an old summer-camp crush (Heather Lawless). Still, when it comes to priorities, Otto has enough on his plate trying to provide a safe new home for his young daughter (Audrey P. Scott, perfectly cast as a teen with the potential to grow up to be someone truly special) at a moment when the girl’s parents really ought to be focused on her, rather than themselves.
Apart from a few wild-and-crazy details, the film never veers too far from the realm of relatability. At times, it actually seems a bit too familiar, as in the scene where Otto debates whether to hack Annie’s Facebook profile after they’ve split — one of those genuine-enough impulses that verges on cliche the 10th time you’ve seen it in a movie. But then, MacLachlan’s sense of humor tends toward bemused Seinfeld-esque observations — “what’s the deal with (insert everyday situation here)” — rather than the outrageous setpieces one might expect to find in studio comedies, and the film might actually have been a smidge stronger without the feel-good end-credits coda. Sometimes, it’s just nice to get out of L.A. or New York and spend some time in a place as beautiful as North Carolina, where the combination of sunlight and foliage gives these refreshingly unpretentious proceedings an energizing glow.