Jim Strouse’s new comedy, People Places Things, is the delightful tale of a man facing some of modern life’s biggest problems while still packing in plenty of laughs. Staring Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords fame, the film puts a twist on the traditional romantic comedy with what some would say is a more realistic approach to the genre, including the problematic navigation of a break-up involving children.
Will Henry (Clement) is a graphic artist whose life is thrown into chaos when he discovers that his wife (Stephanie Allyne) is cheating on him with an off-Broadway monologist (Michael Chernus). A year later he’s struggling to adjust to his newly single life whilst attempting to teach his mostly mindless students and parent his two twin girls, Clio and Colette (Aundrea and Gila Gadsby). When he is persuaded into a dinner date with the mother (Regina Hall) of one of his students (Jessica Williams), Will begins to consider life beyond his failed relationship although nothing is easy for a man who thinks of happiness as an ‘un-sustainable state’.
Clement delivers one of his strongest performances to date and provides the film with a lead that demands attention even when the story occasionally slips. With his quirky one-liners and deadpan delivery, his comedic talents are put to good use here and are complimented with the supporting cast. He and Hall (Vacation) have a nice chemistry that is one of the more enchanting parts of the film, and serves a nice reminder that Hall has come a long way since her days in the Scary Movie franchise.
Allyne plays the mainly serious ex-wife as a contrast against Clement’s quirk, and while she does get some funny moments herself, most of the comic relief is left to Chernus as the bumbling, ‘other man’. Williams (Girls) is perfectly snappy as the feisty student, although it’s a shame that she wasn’t given the opportunity to explore other sides to her character, especially seeing that these are the same traits that she has relied on as her The Daily Show persona. The Gadsby twins are adorable throughout as Will’s over-scheduled daughters, and do exceptionally well in their first acting role.
There are plenty of laughs to be had with jokes coming consistently throughout, and not just from Clement either. The cast is very well put together and really elevates what could have otherwise been a quaint film with a few too many sitcom-esque plot points, like Will needing a last minute baby-sitter or a camping trip with slapstick moments. Good use is made of Will’s occupation as a cartoonist, and his comics provide a poignant window into a man who has drifted far from happiness in his life, even when they do happen to be a bit on the nose. There is a bit of disharmony though at times between the film’s humour and it’s tone, that has characters doing and saying things that seem overly goofy for it’s real world vibe, which verges on almost being absurdist.
The films only real unforgivable sin though, is that the audience is left wanting more from it’s characters. There’s a lingering feeling that our dive into this world was a little too shallow, and that there is still more to these flawed characters that could (and should) have been further explored. For example, when Will fears that his daughters may not be adjusting to the new changes in their lives, the issue seems to be prematurely solved with the notion that Allyne’s character is so on top of her mothering duties that the conversation warrants no further discussion, and thus the girls’ acting up ceasing to occur. Even as Will finds himself tangled in a myriad of complex relationships, his character development is fairly over simplified and actually boils down to a motivation that transcends from wanting to be alone and then not.
After having competed at the Sundance Film Festival, I still fear this film will receive far less attention than it deserves, which is a shame because it was so enjoyable. Flaws and all, People Places Things is well worth the admission price, if not just for the smile you’ll leave with after.
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