“Life sucks because my wife left me for an off broadway monologuist.”
Anymore, it seems impossible to find a good romantic comedy. Too often do they careen into the territory of the juvenile, and sometimes even the sexist. People Places Things is three things: mature, forthright, and real. Its pedal is pressed too far, too rushed to get from point A to point B to really admire the sights in between. But what’s best about the film is its willingness to attempt, or at least feign, an absolute sense of authenticity. Movies don’t have to necessarily feel real, yet they must believe in themselves. Conviction is key. Is People Places Things flawed? Absolutely so. And that’s part of the appeal, the connection to the heart of its story. Life is complicated. So are these characters, their lives, their pasts and their presents. Honesty is one of cinema’s most revered and under-utilized traits.
After catching his wife in the act of cheating, Will Henry’s (Jemaine Clement) life is upturned. He must learn to play double duty when he gets his twin daughters. Once shared responsibilities become the acts of one individual. Will’s a graphic novelist who teaches on the subject at a small university, and as he transitions and grows, we see the man write and create his new story. Films containing storytellers are almost always about people in transitional periods and their creative outlet/profession is what we experience as an audience. In that regard People Places Things is rather forgettable. None of his work sticks. And still, while not 100% believable, it is never less than engaging. Few films let the lead, man or woman, push themselves to be better because they know that they should and they can. That it’s necessary. There is a conscious effort here largely missing in modern filmmaking.
Will’s life doesn’t descend into doomsday level turmoil. It merely becomes more complicated. Storywise there is nothing new about it. However, will the help of Clement and Regina Hall as Diane, Will’s new love interest and a professor experiencing her own crisis, the film always feels fresh. It’s like opening a pack of gum, a flavor you’ve had countless times, with that first juicy chomp that’s always a bit refreshing and different. The story itself is really held together by Hall, who is remarkable here as a reflection of lives lived then and now. She’s a strong character who knows what she wants, how she is willing to get it, and rarely wavers in her predetermined path. That’s attributed to writer/director James C. Strouse. While only his third feature, Strouse writes women with authoritative voices. His films may focus on men, but the women are vital, at times even more important pieces to the overall story. Strouse’s features admirably portray empowering, thoughtful relationships between fathers and daughters in ways that few do.
People Places Things is too quiet of a film, sometimes literally, to manage to really burrow its way into your emotional core. It drills with silence. But the performance by Clement is astonishing. He’s goofy and smart, oblivious and caring. It shouldn’t be so rare to experience the life of such a kind man. Clement brings humor and levity to dramatic territory, never committing himself too entirely to one side or the other. Sometimes that’s a bad thing. Here though, in a film as real as this, it’s easy to imagine the reality of its structure and the unfolding emotional blueprint. Somewhere out there I imagine lives like these are being lived. That doesn’t take much imagination to dream up. But it does take keen observation to committedly transcribe the validity and denote the detail. People Places Things modestly depicts the unstaged humor and unprepared drama of everyday life.
“Happiness is not really a sustainable condition.”
Rating: 3.5 out of 5