f there’s a mentality to which every single one of us can subscribe, it is that of not having accomplished enough in adulthood. There appears to be a customary juncture, somewhere around the age of thirty, at which you are expected to “have it all”: steady career, busy social life; marriage, a mortgage, maybe a couple of kids . . . Well, damn, as somebody in the autumn stages of his thirties, I can christen myself a categorical failure on (most of) those fronts! And guess what, I’m okay with that.
I spent the entire stretch of my twenties feeling inadequate. Be it an intrinsic flair for self-deprecation, or debilitating anguish fed by habitual compulsions and a twine of toxic relationships, I just never felt good enough—neither for myself nor other people. It was at the tail end of a chaotic few months in 2013, during which I stepped away from both an erst-loved job and long-term partner, that the gods of predestination swooped down to alleviate my turmoil with the gifting of a gorgeous little movie, Hello I Must Be Going: a rare (back then) star vehicle for the unparalleled Melanie Lynskey.
Warmly received in the wake of its 2012 debut at Sundance, Going presents the story of Amy, a timid thirty-five-year-old embroiled in a messy separation, who is forced to do the one thing that most folks pushing forty—any age, for that matter—would dread: move back home with her parents. Sketched with tangible shadings of wisdom by writer Sarah Koskoff, it is ultimately the meticulous endeavours of Lynskey—whose tear-kissed eyes, crestfallen visage, and drooping gait do just as much legwork as her dialogue—that bring Amy so impeccably to fruition, her embodiment of emotional suffering and, later, forbidden pleasure (when she embarks upon a love affair with a nerdy 19-year-old) providing a refreshing antidote to the obnoxious “man-child” caricature of countless Gen X comedies.
Familial tensions and stolen moments of passion to one side, it is the way that Koskoff, Lynskey, and director Todd Louiso let you sit with and ingest Amy’s despair, particularly through the pic’s poignant first half, that leaves the weightiest impression: it is precisely the sort of acute, vegetate-in-the-same-clothes-for-days melancholia that so many of us, regrettably, have encountered. Thank goodness that her gradual metamorphosis doesn’t carry with it the trite sting of, say, an ugly-duckling-into-swan style rebirth à la She’s All That or Miss Congeniality; rather, it bequeaths to us a realistic sense of someone having learned the hard way that true contentment comes not from wild intercourse or grand achievements, but being able to look in the mirror and admire the person staring back at you.
Treading a comparable path of misfortune is the protagonist of Nick Peet’s Lazy Susan: a bizarre, broadly amusing curio from 2020, splendidly headlined by Sean Hayes as the titular middle-aged singleton—languishing in the throes of, well, not so much a breakdown as a state of self-imposed lethargy—whose mulish unwillingness to “better” herself has long been a point of contention for those in her immediate sphere. Ties to Going are evident from the off, with the bewigged and dishevelled Hayes injecting a similar doe-eyed wistfulness into his cisgendered leading lazy. She, too, finds encouragement in a left-field courtship, though the voyage of self-discovery feels a tad less valiant here: in place of Lynskey’s invigorating final showdown with her sleazeball soon-to-be-ex-husband, Susan enjoys a mini moment of catharsis during a peppery third-act squabble with her family, before (reluctantly) taking a salesclerk position at her local K-Mart. Hey, it’s a start.
As shallow, peevish, and perpetually self-concerned as Susan is, I have to acknowledge an enormous rapport with this puerile train wreck, a shell of an individual who—whether by her own hand or the actions of others—has been entrenched in some kind of dour, catatonic malaise for the majority of her existence, never quite feeling attuned to her surroundings or in touch with her innermost zeal. It is testament to the prowess of Hayes and his co-scripters (Carrie Aizley and Darlene Hunt) that their full-grown bratgirl is masterminded with only the sincerest, most charitable of intentions, and that her aloofness toward life is celebrated rather than scorned.
It seems fitting now to return to that grotesque hypothesis about getting one’s figurative shit together by, what was it, thirty? Pfft. The beginning of my own expedition out of the doldrums was spurred by the realisation that not having it together anytime soon . . . is perfectly all right. As I contemplate this closing passage, an earnest question presents itself: “Am I an Amy or a Susan?”
In truth, at times I have been both of them.