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    People, Places, Things (2015): Movie Review

    “A light and charming tale of a burdened and sad single man.” 

    People still healing from shattered relationships are the stars of People, Places, Things, written and directed by James C. Strouse. In this parenting dramedy, Jemaine Clement plays a sad-sack comic book artist whose disorientation challenges his daddy-back-to-dating-world abilities.

    The film opens with Will Henry (Clement) playing host to his twin daughter’s fifth birthday party. He is searching for his live-in partner, Charlie (Stephanie Allynne), when he catches her upstairs in their Brooklyn brownstone house making out with his chubby friend (Michael Chernus), an Off Broadway monologuist. Immediately, the couple separates.

    One year after, 40-year-old Will lives alone in a studio apartment in Astoria, just a quick ride from Manhattan and teaches graphic novel classes at School of the Visual Arts. He maintains a friendly relationship with Charlie who, once skeptical of marriage, is now pregnant with Gary and is planning to marry him. From a weekend visitation, Will suddenly finds himself spending his weekdays with their daughters Collete (Gia Gadsby) and Clio (Aundrea Gadsby). On top of that, his student, Kat (Jessica Williams), sets him up with her 45-year-old mother, Diane (Regina Hall), a literature professor at Columbia University. After a totally disastrous first date, Will and Diane become fond of each other and form a tentative romance. But when Will and Charlie secretly share a kiss, they suddenly become hesitant of their actions and decisions. 

    People, Places, Things is sweet, charming, goofy and irresistibly adorable. It speaks of human realities with a respectful level of heart and humor. Its truths are relevant and relatable, such as the after-effects of breakups, moving on from a failed relationship and being single parent. It is seriously funny, mixing different combos of verbal and physical comedy, such as in the opening scene where Will becomes more distressed over Gary’s nakedness than the discovery of Charlie’s infidelity. In the middle, the humor becomes a bit lazy and the film feels like a sitcom, especially with the camping trip and Will’s unplanned excursion at Kat’s and Diane’s.

    The ending is a different story. With most indie films, it offers an ambiguous conclusion, letting the audience decide based on the hints given. It seems a happy ending but it remains a flaccid one. Will’s short chitchat with Charlie who becomes missing in her wedding for a longer time than necessary is quite vague and unconvincing. Like Charlie or even Will himself, the end part makes the film unsure where it wants to go.

    Despite its unsteady plot, the film is still a good one because of its sharp development of characters. It is a character-driven movie and it is exciting to follow their growth. It places a good amount of faith and kindness to them even when they are messy and insufferable. It particularly revolves around Will, a spirited, warm, dreamy and humble human. Amidst his complex character, he is clearly a faithful husband and a loving father. His classroom scenes are entertaining and interesting as he vents out his emotion through his arts and lectures. Inspite of the hazy ending, it is obvious that Will is learning to let go of his futile hopes for the past and look forward, no matter how unstable or uncertain, to starting anew.

    Charlie, the intolerable ex-partner, is portrayed more as the antagonist. She is a control freak and the selfish type when she said “The problem is I don’t love my life” to Will. Yet, the film is sensitive enough to delve into her sacrifices and confusions. It is just sad that Diane is underwritten and lacks screen time. Emotionally fragile, she and her life stories are only described minutely in her daughter’s own comic book. It is interesting to know her deeper as she stirred Will in a touching way.

    Thanks to Clement for his skilful timing and delivery that his Will is an enjoyable character. He looks handsome with all that odd accent, bad outfits, dirty stubble and big funny teeth. He has the depth and charisma as a serious leading man. Allynne brings just the right annoyance of Charlie. Though appearing for only a few times, Hall is impressive and affecting. Her presence is demanding and her moments with Clements are wondrous. Williams also shine as the energetic, ambitious art student, so do the Gadsby twins. 

    People, Places, Things is an example of a charming film made out of a simple premise. As much as the plot is light and easy, the characters are complex and shaky. Yet, such human confusions, true reflections of reality, are delicately observed and strongly delivered by the actors.

    Production company: Beachside
    Cast: Jemaine Clement, Reginal Hall, Stephanie Allyne, Jessica Williams, Michael Chernus, Gia Gadsby, Aundrea Gadsby
    Director: James C. Strouse
    Screenwriter: James C. Strouse
    Producers: Michael B. Clark, Alex Turtletaub
    Director of photography: Chris Teague
    Production design: Scott Kuzio
    Editor: Colleen Sharp
    Music: Mark Orton


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