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Laura Blum

Laura is a festival correspondent covering films and the festival circuit for She also publishes on Thalo



Angus MacLachlan's "Goodbye to All That" Sets the Stage for Best Actor Award at Tribeca


With Goodbye to All That, writer/actor Angus MacLachlan says hello to directing. Greeting him back is success. There have been handshakes all around since his leading man Paul Schneider took the medal for “Best Actor in a Narrative Feature” at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival. It's almost embarrassing to point out that the theme of the film is our need to be known and appreciated.

The main leave-taking in Goodbye is the breakup of Otto Wall's (Shneider) marriage to Annie (Melanie Lynskey). From what we can tell of Annie, it's a good riddance. Nonetheless, for Wall singlehood comes as a shock, and he spends virtually the entire film in a muddle. To be fair to Annie, Otto's heedless ways are what landed him in this predicament to begin with. He may have vision as a graphic designer, but in his own life he can hardly see past the haze. Estranged Annie complains about this disconnect, and insists on teaching their young daughter Edie (Audrey Scott) "that a woman has a right to be loved and to be known." Edie adores her doting dad, though less so his proneness to accidents and plain old lack of common sense. 

After snooping on his ex through Facebook, Wall turns to that other celestial force, OK Cupid. A dozen years have passed since he last made the dating scene, yet the easygoing North Carolinian gets the hang of it like an old stud. Pretty soon his bachelor pad and country home are rocked with lusty trysts. Maclachlan makes humorous hay out of Wall's romps with a dosey doe of more and less sane blonds (Heather Graham, Anna Camp, Ashley Hinshaw). Even his boss (Amy Sedaris) comes pantingly close to clawing off his clothes. Like the Robert Graves memoir that shares the film's title, our protagonist comes in for an "unsentimental and frequently comic treatment of the banalities and intensities of the life," to quote Graves. Only Wall's summer camp sweetheart (Heather Lawless) suggests serious romantic material.

I spoke with Angus MacLachlan at Tribeca about his directorial debut and second screenplay since Junebug.

Q: Goodbye to All That is the name of a famous book. What led you to adopt it?

AM: A friend of mine gave me that book and I thought it was a great title, and it's in the public domain. Then I discovered that both Nora Ephron and Roger Ebert wrote famous pieces called that.

Q: If you filled in the blank, it'd be goodbye to all what?

AM: At the beginning it's that (Wall) lost his life -- his home, his wife and his security. At the end it's that he has come to more consciousness, so he's moved to some new place where he's going to say goodbye to being so unconscious.

Q: Along the way he's so inarticulate that he almost never finishes a sentence, with the exception of a cathartic outburst towards Annie. Why do words fail him?

AM: His journey is to become aware of himself and aware of his feelings, so he's not an articulate kind of person. He's not someone who can just come out with his emotions, because he doesn't know what he feels. Like with (sex partner) Mildred, where she says, "I don't really want that; is that okay? What do you want?" he doesn't have an answer.

Q: Is the truncated dialogue written or did you improvise with the actors?

AM: It's very written. I was a writer, so I write for actors.

Q: Is there a challenge to creating a protagonist who needs to drive the action forward but who is a little bumbled in his head?

AM: Absolutely. It's also that he's not overtly a man of action. He sort of reacts and then acts. So that was a challenge: will the audience go with that journey?

Q: Clearly this a very personal and intimate story, but can we make a larger statement about men today in America?

AM: Hmmmm, I guess kind of. Or about people in America...

Q: But his daughter is much more together and mature than he is. And Annie is the prototype of the bossy, with-it woman. So is it really "people"?

AM: When Annie says at the end, "I try to teach Edie that a woman has a right to be known and to be loved," he used to have a line that I cut out that says, "Who doesn't?" -- that a man has that right too. And Annie even says, "I never even knew you, ever." So he was also never known or seen or deeply loved.

Q: But he didn't even see that he wasn't seen. What's that about?

AM: Maybe it's a statement that women have a lot of volition. It's really interesting: women in their 20s really get this movie. And I've had some older women -- and men -- say, "Is that the way it happens now? Is that the way they do it?" 

Q: What does the autumnal setting give, and could this have been shot in a different season?

AM: Yes, another season could have worked, but autumn is beautiful and sort of melancholy. And it's the end of something, going into winter.

Q: Goodbye to all that.

AM: Exactly.

Q: Is this a regional film? A southern story?

AM: It is to me. I really wanted to show that, in a mid-sized town like Winston-Salem, North Carolina, this is the way we live. It's so seldom portrayed. I wrote Junebug, which is about working-class people, and usually that's the sort of story that you see, like Mud. It's those kinds of people that most southern stories are about. The history of film is in New York, generally. The stories from the 30s and 40s -- the gangster films, 42nd street -- all happen in New York, but we don't think of those as being regional filmmaking. Likewise for films set in L.A. So I wanted to say, Here's a regional film which can also have a universality to it, and say that we're not all cut off and unsophisticated, and we do the same kinds of jobs. This could happen in Ann Arbor, Michigan or Portland, Oregon or places beyond New York or L.A. or Chicago. There's a lot of the country that's not usually portrayed.

Q: On the topic of earlier films, was there one that particularly inspired this story?

AM: An Unmarried Woman, with Jill Clayburgh, which was about a woman who lived on the Upper East Side of New York in a supposedly happy marriage with a daughter, and suddenly her husband says, "I don't want to be married anymore. I'm in love with somebody else." She reels from that and then tries to find herself in the dating world. It was set in 1979, and it was really about the women's movement and saying, One doesn't need a man to complete her. She has to stand up on her own feet. I wondered, Can that story be told from a man's point of view? To me he's not immature; he's just unconscious. 

Q: What prompted you to cast Paul Schneider?

AM: It was a delicate role to cast, because it needed to be a man who's attractive enough that you can imagine all these women wanting him, but if he's too attractive it gets a little sleazy. And he had to be athletic but clumsy, not stupid but kind of clueless and real and serious but funny. Paul is an interesting actor because he's always thinking. Even when he plays small roles you always sense there's something going on his character's mind. Also he's from Ashville, North Carolina, as am I, and the film is set in North Carolina.   

Q: In putting the screws to your main character, were you thinking of a particular tragicomic figure in film or literature?

AM: One of the images I gave Paul was Buster Keaton. He's standing and the house falls down around him and he turns around and it's like, There's a house behind me? He's that unaware.

Q: How does the music nudge along this idea?

AM: The music is all Hayden. To me it's witty Mozart. I didn't want to have banjos or other southern things and I didn't want to have pop songs. There's something about the formality of the classical music we used that's kind of funny at times and also very moving. It also has a lot of speed, like in silent films where someone's caught in something beyond his control.

Q: How did you modulate the comedic and serious tones and avoid sentimentality?

AM: It's the way I feel that life is -- I think it's funny and horrifying at the same time. The best experiences I have in theater and film are when it's funny and true at the same time. Celia Weston, who plays the therapist, has that in spades. She can say something that's absolutely true and really funny at the same time. And the editing does its part: the rhythm is very important, as it always is with comedy.

Q: What was your aesthetic concept?

AM: We wanted it to be very real and attractive and not too gritty. There's not a lot of handheld work. It's composed in a way that's not ostentatious, and that the most important thing is the human element. What I told all of the departments -- my DP and the costumer and everyone -- is that it's the story and the emotions and the acting that are going to carry the film. There are not a lot of shots that are self-conscious, but there are shots that are very intentional when the camera moves in or out of someone and how they're framed. But hopefully that's not the first thing you're aware of. For example, in the scene with Mildred, they're basically having virtual sex. The camera starts from the side and comes up really close and it's just their two big heads. It's in their heads that it's happening. That's why the camera is doing it this way.

Photo credits:

Otto Wall (Paul Schneider) & Stephanie (Heather Graham). Photographer:Corey Walter

Otto Wall (Paul Schneider) & Mildred (Ashley Hinshaw. Photographer: Corey Walter



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