Release: Friday, August 15, 2015 (limited)
Written by: James C. Strouse
Directed by: James C. Strouse
Bittersweet comedy features Jemaine Clement calibrating his typical absurdist humor to bring warmth and tenderness to a story that both pleases and frustrates in almost equal measure.
People Places Things won’t be the next career-defining gig for the Kiwi but it’s such an affable film little doubt remains as to whether the Flight of the Conchords performer is multitalented as well as a genuinely good guy.
In it he plays Will Henry, a 30-something-year-old comic book creator and teacher who discovers his longtime girlfriend has cheated on him on the day of their twin daughters’ birthdays. He subsequently moves into a one-bedroom apartment and must learn to juggle the emotional turmoil with his daily responsibilities such as being a good father and inspiring his students to become better artists.
Will also finds himself having to put himself back out on the market, a proposition he isn’t so quick to embrace until he meets the mother of one of his students, a Columbia University professor who doesn’t initially share Will’s passion for comics, uncertain they are an integral part of American literature. Diane (Regina Hall) is a beautiful woman well-versed in heartbreak. Her daughter Kat (Jessica Williams) highly regards Will as an artist. But what about him as a person?
People Places Things doesn’t set out to rewrite the rules of romantic comedy. But then, it has no obligation to do so when it’s this damn enjoyable. Clement turns in a brilliantly understated performance that effects a fully realized portrait of a father whose love for his children never comes into question. That’s not to say he’s the perfect role model. He struggles with falling into routine, and that’s particularly problematic when he convinces the ex to let him spend more time with the kids.
Stephanie Allynne plays Charlie, the other half of the equation. Her life hasn’t turned out to be what she envisioned. Call the opening scene the manifestation of a midlife crisis from which the film may or may not ever recover. What was once presumably a stable relationship disintegrates in a single scene, although some backstory would have given the revelatory moment the oomph it clearly lacks.
Writer/director James C. Strouse compensates for the awkward cold open by developing the father-daughter relationship in the middle third. The majority of the film finds Will trying to adjust to a life in a new environment, where he tries to impress Clio and Colette (real life twin sisters Aundrea and Gia Gadsby) with his laid-back parenting, a strategy that soon breaks down and calls into question his ability to do all that is necessary to be a truly responsible parent. Meanwhile, Charlie claims she’s been doing that all along. It would have been nice to actually see her being the more matured adult rather than getting glimpses of her having a nervous breakdown.
Despite some hiccups, Strouse constructs a simple tale of mature relationships that certainly could benefit from some expansion but it’s the emotional depth that lifts the film several feet above forgettable.
Recommendation: Performances are key. Jemaine Clement is wonderful, as is his support. Most notable are Regina Hall and Jessica Williams as Will’s student whose mother he ends up seeing. Story is slight but heartwarming and incredibly re-watchable. Fans of Clement and ‘realistic’ romantic comedies need apply.
Running Time: 85 mins.
Quoted: “Yeah, I’m fine. I’m just having a bad life. It’ll be over eventually.”
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