The typical American romance often traffics in rote sitcom plot mechanics that are more concerned with ensuring that Mr. and Ms. Right finally achieve the yuppie ideal of marriage and stability than with conveying any actual sense of transporting connection. These films—often starring Kate Hudson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Katherine Heigl, etc.—insidiously pressure men and woman to mate on cue and to hang up any individualistic notions that might interfere with three kids, a nanny, an SUV, and the jobs you actively loathe. They’re also often concerned with nothing that vaguely resembles the notion of romantic love; in actuality, they would be right at home with the hidden advertisements in They Live. I understand their popularity, as people who are only casually familiar with movies assume that this is the closest the art form will come to addressing the kind of heartache that these films are actually trivializing.
Adam Reid, the writer-director of Hello Lonesome, seems to share my concern about romances. The film is almost entirely devoid of plot; instead, it alternates between three couples engaged in varying kinds of relationships, following them as they strike up tentative and surprising connections. The little moments we cling to in even bad romances, the vignettes that exist as little diamonds in the rough of the larger studio-mandated hypocrisies, are meant to be the entirety of Hello Lonesome.
The first story follows a voiceover artist, Bill (Harry Chase), who lives on the kind of self-created island that tends to inspire envy. Bill records ads and trailers in his underwear at home in the morning, which allows him to wander around for the rest of the day in a lonely-as-hell funk. Bill has a grown daughter who won’t return his calls, as well as a mailman, Omar (Kamel Boutros), with whom he enjoys facetiously sour repartee. In the second story, an aging widow named Eleanor (Lynn Cohen), loses her driver’s license, and forges a quasi-romantic relationship with her considerably younger, dry-witted neighbor, Gary (James Urbaniak). And finally, there’s Gordon (Nate Smith) and Debby (Sabrina Lloyd), a couple who meet online and immediately click, only to soon hit a shocking speed bump.
Hello Lonesome isn’t very polished, to say the least. The dialogue is stilted and obvious in a fashion that’s traditional to scripts early in a writer’s career, and the blocking of the scenes is barely competent (moments between Eleanor and Gary in his car are flat-out incompetent). And the stories, while we’re at it, are too neat, as they are all structured to reaffirm a pat moral that’s symbolically part of the text of a TV spot that Bill reads at the beginning and ending of the film.
But Hello Lonesome has some sort of scrappy appeal, and Reid lands a few of his moments, such as the morning after Gordon and Debby have sex for the first time. Chase has a face and voice that suggest years of bad decisions, and the actor has the sense to let those qualities do most of the acting for him. Sabrina Lloyd, who I remember fondly from Sports Night, has a touching, unforced vulnerability, while Lynn Cohen allows her character a gravity that shames most mainstream films’ condescending portrayals of the elderly. Hello Lonesome isn’t really that much of a movie, but it has something that a number of more polished pictures in the same vein don’t: human decency. Sadly, that’s noteworthy.