From the first moments of Goodbye to All That, when Otto Wall (Paul Schneider) is jogging past vibrant autumn foliage to the strains of a Haydn piano concerto, Angus MacLachlan’s directorial debut feels like a 1980s Alan Alda dramedy (The Four Seasons, A New Life). Otto is a comfortably oblivious white-collar suburban dad who’s unaware that tween daughter Edie (Audrey Scott) worries about his safety — or that his wife, Annie (Melanie Lynskey), is filing divorce papers.
“Why do these things always happen to Daddy?” Edie asks after an ATV accident hobbles the marathon runner. “He doesn’t pay attention,” answers the weary Annie, and that’s as insightful as MacLachlan’s script gets.
Otto’s inattention is manifested in clumsiness and bad luck. Other characters are likewise defined by a single trait and act accordingly, with vague motivations and fragmentary dialogue. That lack of specificity extends to the nondescript woodsy neighborhoods of Winston-Salem that are a world away from the North Carolina of Junebug (MacLachlan’s Spirit Award–nominated first screenplay) with its folk artists, holy rollers, and clingy eccentrics.
Goodbye to All That has nothing to do with Joan Didion’s essay or Robert Graves’s autobiography. The title indicates a major transition, but despite assertions that the dissolution of a marriage is a life-altering event, divorce doesn’t change Otto as much as rouse him from stupefaction, and Schneider deftly balances bewilderment with resolve.
MacLachlan is more interested in Otto getting his groove back through sexual encounters with beautiful, eager, and noncommittal women. As long as he regains his footing sexually, the bone-deep pain of divorce can be ignored.