People Places Things (2015)

peopleplacesthings_2015_poster
People Places Things (2015)
  • Time: 85 min
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Director: James C. Strouse
  • Cast: Jemaine Clement, Regina Hall, Michael Chernus, Jessica Williams

Storyline:

People Places Things tells the story of Will Henry (Jemaine Clement), a newly single graphic novelist father balancing single-parenting his young twin daughters, writers block, a classroom full students, all the while exploring and navigating the rich complexities of new love and letting go of the woman who left him.

One review

  • People Places Things wraps itself around you like a gentle lullaby and warms you like the heat from a fireplace on a cold winter’s night. The third film from writer-director James C. Strouse finds him at his most assured, confidently balancing the comic and serious and suffusing the film with more than a hint of melancholy.

    A birthday party for his twin girls Clio and Colette (Aundrea and Gia Gadsby) brings forth some necessary stresses. Little hopped-up tyrants are straying about the home he shares with longtime girlfriend Charlie (Stephanie Allynne), most of the parents missing in action, relieved to be granted a reprieve from their beasts of burden. A hunt for missing matches for the birthday cake has him happening upon a breakup on the staircase landing (“I just don’t want to have kids with you,” a woman tells her forlorn mate), which is a mere prelude to the catastrophe that unfolds in the following minutes: discovering a half-naked Charlie with their friend Gary (Michael Chernus).

    One year later, Charlie is still with Gary and Will is still wallowing in the misery of his breakup. A teacher at the School of Visual Arts, he presents the following question for his students to ponder: “Why does life suck so hard?” The correct answer: “Because my ex left me for an off-Broadway monologuist who just knocked her up and asked her to marry him.” One of his students, Kat (The Daily Show’s Jessica Williams) wonders about his well-being – “Just having a bad life,” he replies. “It’ll be over eventually.” – and sets him up on a date with her mom Diane (Regina Hall), who coolly informs Will that, unbeknownst to her daughter, she is already seeing someone. So far, so awkward. Nevertheless, the two have dinner as Kat goes about her business in the background. The two single parents slightly bond over broken relationships and debate the merits of comic books (he’s a graphic novelist who believes they’re an undervalued art form, she’s an American literature professor who believes otherwise). It all makes for a strange evening but they get through it with the knowledge that their paths shall never cross again. Well…not quite.

    Clement and Hall share a wonderful chemistry, coming together in a way that’s devoid of the usual treacle and artificiality. Will’s emotional baggage keeps getting in the way. There are the girls to think of – he wants more than just the weekends with them. Then there’s Charlie, for whom he has unresolved feelings. He can’t quite understand her change in attitude about matrimony or how she didn’t think he would have been there for the long run.

    If there is one quibble to be had about Strouse’s screenplay, it is the portrayal of Charlie who comes off as one selfish harridan of a woman. She refuses to brook discussion of him having more time with the kids and then scolds him for being taken aback when she drops them off to be with him for the week leading up to her wedding. No opportunity is missed to nag him about his failings to keep the girls on their schedule. Even if Hall wasn’t so excellent as Diane, it would be deeply difficult to sympathise with Charlie.

    One can only take it on faith that she was unhappy and, given Clement’s thoroughly winning portrayal of Will as a lovable sad sack, one can’t shake off the impression that it was Charlie who took him for granted rather than the other way around. Strouse leaves the explaining to Will, who admits to Diane that “[Charlie] just stopped talking and I enjoyed the silence.” Contributing to the back story and providing insight into Will’s state of mind are inclusions of Will’s graphic novel (illustrated by Gray Williams), which are naturally woven into the narrative.

    There isn’t anything especially profound in Strouse’s depiction of single fatherhood and the ways in which relationships ebb and flow. One can even envision it continuing on as a television series in the vein of Everybody Loves Raymond or Parenthood. What sets People Places Things apart from the majority of similarly themed works, including Strouse’s previous effort Grace is Gone, is the elegant intertwining of messy emotions with droll and goodhearted humour.

    Clement deserves a great deal of credit as People Places Things would be nowhere near as engaging without his adroit comic timing as well as his deft touch in the film’s more downbeat moments. Also praiseworthy are Hall as the no-nonsense woman who has had her own share of hurts and Williams as her fiercely intelligent daughter.

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