Tuesday, July 28, 2015

“People Places Things”– Movie Review



This week, I attended a sneak preview of the new comedy, “People Places Things” starring Jemaine Clement at The Film Society Of Lincoln Center.


When a man is confronted with an unforeseen divorce, can he resolve his feelings about his ex-wife while raising their children and trying to get on with the rest of his life?


During the fifth birthday party of his twin daughters Clio and Colette (Aundrea and Gia Gadsby, respectively), Will (Clement) is frantically trying to keep order, but he gets more than just a little bit distracted when he stumbles upon his wife Charlie (Stephanie Allynne) in flagrante delicto with Gary (Michael Chernus) in their own home. Confronting them, Will is understandably furious but Charlie informs him that she wants a divorce so that she can be with Gary; much to Will’s shock and dismay, it turns out that Charlie has been unhappy in their marriage for a very long time and now wants out.

A year after their divorce, Will finds himself living in a small apartment by himself – but when custody arrangements permit, the daughters periodically visit. Complicating matters is the fact that Charlie announced to Will that she and Gary are now making plans to get married -- and that she’s currently carrying Gary’s baby. This makes Will more than slightly uncomfortable because he was long holding out hope that they would eventually enjoy a successful reconciliation. Inconsolable at this news, Will’s work – both as a college instructor and a cartoonist – suffers greatly as he falls deeper into a depression.

With Will in obvious pain, Kat (Jessica Williams), one of his students, tries to set him up with her mother, Diane (Regina Hall). Initially, things do not go well: unbeknownst to Kat, Diane has been dating someone. Not only that, but, as a literature professor herself, she is also very dismissive of what Will does for a living. Despite all of that, they inadvertently wind up spending some time with each other and a mutual attraction develops. Although Will seems to be finding a degree of happiness in his newfound romance, he starts having questions as Charlie’s wedding draws near. Will he be able to put his past with Charlie behind him and concentrate on his relationship with Diane?


“Happiness is an unsustainable condition” is a favorite line in “People Places Things”; while it may be an incisive observation, it is not particularly funny. In that sense, at least it’s consistent with the rest of the movie. While trying to create dramatic situations that put Will in comedic predicaments, filmmaker Jim Strouse merely winds up planting the character in a jam that he clearly could have avoided; the plot points to move the story forward are contrived, to say the least. It may be believable for characters in “Dumb And Dumber” to find themselves in such pickles, but not the characters with such presumed intelligence as the ones in this film. Despite a good cast obviously quite comfortable in comedy, they are unable to elevate this material beyond the mere trite.

Another problem with “People Places Things” is the way in which the central characters are presented in the story.  As a protagonist, Will spends a considerable amount of screen time wallowing in his own self-pity for so long that it makes him decidedly unsympathetic; obviously, this doesn’t particularly help the film terribly much. Charlie, Will’s ex-wife, is set up to be such an unlikeable character at the outset of the motion picture that it’s hard to understand why an audience would root for she and Will to get back together.

Following the screening, the writer/director Jim Strouse was interviewed. Strouse talked about some of the challenges encountered working as an independent filmmaker; although he can make movies, he can’t rely on that as his sole source of income. Like the character Will in “People Places Things”, he teaches a college course (although his subject is screenplay writing, not cartooning). Strouse noted that while various technological changes have made filmmaking easier to a degree (e.g., digital cameras and delivery/distribution mechanisms via the Internet), it has gotten considerably harder to make any money as a filmmaker these days.

People Places Things (2015) on IMDb

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