people_places_things_3Year: 2015
Director: James C. Strouse
Writer(s): James C. Strouse
Region of Origin: US
Rating: R
Digital, Color, 85 mins

Synopsis: Will Henry is a newly single graphic novelist balancing parenting his young twin daughters while exploring the rich complexities of new love and letting go of the woman who left him. (Source)

“Happiness is not really a sustainable condition”, says a character in the opening moments of People, Places, Things. It’s this single line that crystalizes best what the film captures – that happiness is not a destination but rather a continual effort. Directed by James C. Strouse, the film efficiently balances poignant, sometimes dark drama while still maintaining some semblance of charm and hope, thanks largely to the incredible performance of leading man Jemaine Clement. In fact, I’m going to go as far as to say that if there’s one reason to catch the film at all, it’s because of Clement’s performance, who despite his relentless quips and one liners feels like a real human being affected by a devastating situation.

During his twin daughters’ fifth birthday party, Will Henry (Jemaine Clement) walks in on his girlfriend/mother of his children Charlie (Stephanie Allynne) and a mutual friend. The situation understandably breaks Will’s heart and ends their relationship instantly. A year later, Henry is still recovering from what’s transpired, sharing weekend custody of his daughters while trying to complete a new graphic novel (he’s an illustrator) and teaching a comic book writing class. Stuck in a rut emotionally and unable to really move on with his life, things take an interesting turn when one of his students, Kat (Jessica Williams) invites him to have dinner with her mother, Diane (Regina Hall). Meanwhile, Charlie and her boyfriend Gary (Michael Chernus) are considering marriage. Disheartened by the thought of becoming even more marginalized by his ex and daughters, Will finds himself between new possibilities and inevitable finality, forced once and for all to make some choices which will affect the rest of his life.

The unique position of Strouse’s film, is that it takes place years after the stereotypical happy ending. When the film begins, Will has everything you’d thing he’d need to be happy – he’s an established artist, teaches, is content in his relationship and has two precocious little girls who couldn’t love him more – until things go sideways. Strouse uses Will’s loss of stability to examine the way that happiness and sadness are inextricable, that you can’t have one without the other, while also relating how each of us have a story that is created by sharing our lives with those around us. Punctuated by the illustrations of artist Gray Williams, Strouse’s film takes familiarity and gives it bursts of style which keep the film light on its feet, delivering a commendable message about finding closure and being able to let of the past to move on to the future.

people_places_things_2As mentioned, the singular asset that keeps the film afloat is star Jemaine Clement’s turn as a legit leading man. Unlike any film he’s done before, his ability to render the film’s more dramatic themes is impressive while also remaining relatable and having the requisite amount of charm. Seeing Clement’s chemistry with Gia and Aundrea Gadsby (his on screen daughters Collette and Clio, respectively) are some of the film’s best scenes, always finding riotous humor in every situation without ever devolving into a caricature of a character – his guilt and sense of responsibility never feel forced. Clement’s deadpan sarcasm reveals a deep pain that also never feels obnoxious, but rather endearing and emotional. It’s an amount of depth that’s a great showcase for Clement and a joy to watch throughout. To balance off of him, Regina Hall’s Diane and Jessica Williams’ Kat offer up unlikely friendships which anchor Clement’s more colorful personality.

If I’m being honest, the film’s ideas aren’t anything we haven’t seen before, but it gets points for being able to take a look at them from a different angle. Thanks to the rich rapport of its cast, and a maturity that we don’t get to see too often, People, Places, Things is an unpredictable mixture of devastation and enchanting charm – familiar and with a somewhat unmemorable execution, but satisfying all the same.

SG