A Bittersweet Homecoming: ‘Hello I Must Be Going’

A touching, comic look at a divorced "boomerang kid" who moves in with her parents

I was once a boomerang kid, albeit briefly.

“Boomerang kid” is the popular term used by the media to describe adult offspring who return to the family nest after college, a divorce, a job loss or some other circumstance — at an age when they really should be living under their own roof.

I was in my early 30s when I moved back in with my folks after badly fracturing multiple limbs in a bicycle accident in rural France. My parents, bless  ‘em, flew over and brought me back on a stretcher. I then spent three months in a hospital bed in their dining room in central Pennsylvania before I recovered enough to return (still on crutches) to my life as a fully launched adult in New York.

My parents and I actually had a swell time together during that period, though I was bedridden and couldn’t do much beyond read, watch TV and berate my father for his seeming inability to spread peanut butter evenly on a sandwich (he’d just dab a clump or two in the center of the slice of bread).

I was reminded of that experience when I saw Hello I Must Be Going, a poignant comedy opening in theaters today (Sept. 7). In the film, it has been three months since Amy (Melanie Lynskey), a former graduate student in her early 30s, returned home to live with her parents (Blythe Danner, who’s especially marvelous, and John Rubinstein) after a divorce. She’s in a bad way, depressed, sleeping late, not getting dressed or leaving the house in suburban Connecticut. Her mother and father do their best to encourage her to pull her life together, partly so they can get on with their own lives.

One particularly refreshing element of Hello I Must Be Going — the title is derived from one of Groucho Marx’s best-known lines (Amy and her dad watch Marx Brothers movies together) — is how the parents are presented as fully dimensional characters. Each still nurses hopes and dreams, some never to be realized, just as vital and important to them as those aspirations Amy must once again get in touch with if she’s to shake loose from her funk. As another character observes, “The greatest tragedy of a family is the unlived lives of the parents.”

Boomerang kids are everywhere today in popular culture as well as in real life, thanks in large part to the crummy economy. Such characters have long been a staple of TV sitcoms and drama, going back to shows like All in the Family and Maude, where impoverished adult children loudly and often rancorously squeezed into the same house as their parents.

More recently, this kind of all-togetherness has been on display in Everybody Loves Raymond, Parenthood and Retired at 35. Forthcoming this season is a new ABC sitcom called How to Live With Your Parents (for the Rest of Your Life) in which, a year after her divorce, Sarah Chalke finds herself still living with her folks, played by Elizabeth Perkins and Brad Garrett. (Garrett will now have portrayed characters on either side of the divide, from a son shacking up with Mom and Dad in Raymond to a parent in How To.)

Reality TV has gotten into the act, too, with entire shows devoted to the escapades of extended families living together and moving in and out of each other’s lives (hello, Kardashians). On HGTV’s Mission: Organization, a recent episode was devoted to making over the childhood bedroom of a young woman who had moved back home. The first step? Covering the girly, bubblegum-pink walls with a new coat of paint in a subtle, light green shade to better reflect the returnee’s putative adult status.

Let’s face it, the term boomerang kid is really just a fancy new name for that oldest of living arrangements, the extended family. The only difference between now and the old days is that, fortunately, most houses have more than one bathroom and TV set.

Leah Rozen
By Leah Rozen
Leah Rozen, a former film critic for People magazine, is a freelance writer for The New York Times, More and Parade.

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