Movie Review: People, Places, Things (2015)
Here’s the main problem with the movie: The ex is too obviously awful.
In the middle of their daughters’ 5th birthday party, Will Henry (Jemaine Clement of “Flight of the Conchords”), a graphic novelist and teacher, finds his longtime partner Charlie (Stephanie Allyne) cheating on him in the upstairs bedroom with Gary (Michael Chernus), an overweight “monologueist.” A year later, after they’ve split up, and after he asks to spend more time with the girls, she shows up on his doorstep with the girls and just drops them off. No word in advance. A few days after that, he expresses concern that this impromptu shift doesn’t give the girls the proper structure, and Charlie practically throws their schedule—including cello and French lessons—at him. She claims, perhaps legitimately, that she spent too many years taking care of him, and then the girls, so she never had time for herself. Which is what she’s doing now. She’s taking improv classes. Gary thinks she has “hidden talents.” She’s obviously a spoiled nothing but Will is still in love with her. Worse, when he begins a relationship with someone else, Diane (Regina Hall), Charlie begins to covet him again. She kisses him. And he kisses her back.
At the SIFF Uptown theater where I saw “People, Places, Things,” a cry of despair literally went up from the audience at that moment. Particularly the women in the audience.
Will then tells Diane about the kiss. He’s confused, he says. He doesn’t know which way to go, he says. But we do. It’s so fucking obvious.
That’s the main problem with the film. If Charlie had been less awful, we might have felt Will’s dilemma—that sense of being pulled in two equal directions—but we don’t. Because they’re not equal. We not only know he shouldn’t wind up with Charlie but won’t. He’ll wind up with Diane. That’s how these movies go.
Otherwise, “People, Places, Things,” written and directed by James C. Strouse (“Grace is Gone,” “The Winning Season”), is a small, organically funny movie that makes great use of the dry humor and shaggy charm of Clement. An example from when he tells Diane about the kiss with Charlie:
Will: You should slap me or something.
[Diane slaps him]
Diane: You told me to do it!
Will (quietly, hurt): I said “or something.”
The comic-book art in the movie comes from Scott McCloud of “Understanding Comics” fame, and gives us a quick window into Will’s emotions: panels of growing up surrounded by family and thinking “I want to be alone,” leading to the final admission of loneliness; drawings of he and Charlie building something together, which turns out to be the wall separating them.
We also see the work of Kat (Jessica Williams of “The Daily Show,” good in a small role), Will’s brightest student, whose graphic novel is called “Mother Fuckers.” It’s about the men who entered (and exited) the life of her mom, an English literature professor at Columbia. Since her mom is Diane, this is particularly resonant for Will. He is the latest in a long line of mother fuckers.
Again, most of the movie works. The daughters in the film (Aundrea and Gia Gadsby) are supercute, while Clement’s interactions with them feel real enough. The back-and-forth between Will and Gary is always funny, and we get another of those sloppy, anti-Hollywood fight scenes that amounts to bad wrestling. Plus someone finally explained “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” to me.
A lot of the movie is about small validations. Everyone’s struggling, everyone’s juggling, and it’s nice to hear, directly or indirectly, that you’re doing OK; that you’re not incompetent. Basically, that you’re not Charlie. Sorry, Charlie.