Quirky, comedic and endearing are three words to describe this charming independent film starring Jemaine Clement, from Flight of the Conchords.
Clement plays Will Henry, a 40-year-old graphic novelist (he draws cartoons), a teacher at a school of visual arts and the father of twins. At the girls’ fifth birthday party, his seemingly picture-perfect Brooklyn life is turned upside down. That happens after he walks in on the mother of his children and longtime girlfriend, Charlie (Stephanie Allynne), in the arms of another man, Gary (Michael Chernus). She declares that her life hasn’t played out how she envisaged it would and has decided to end their relationship. Flash forward a year and Will is a single father, living alone in a tiny studio apartment some hour and change away from his daughters, trying to put his life back together. He and Charlie continue to communicate regularly because both care deeply about the children and their well-being. Will tends to see them only on weekends and his organisation skills are often left wanting. He hasn’t yet dated, but next thing you know he is being invited back to share a meal with a 19-year-old female student Kat (Jessica Williams), who admires him as a teacher and think he’d be a good match for her “hot” single mother, Diane (Regina Hall). Still, clearly there is some unfinished business with his estranged girlfriend.
For writer and director Jim Strouse, People Places Things represents everything he knows, thinks and feels about being a parent, a writer and a person. He regards it as the most personal story he has told. Strouse (Grace is Gone, The Winning Season, Lonesome Jim) came of age with films like The Heartbreak Kid, California Split and The Last Detail, pictures that challenged audiences to think and feel things as they were laughing. And that’s the type of movie he set out to make, something sad, funny and true that lingers after you leave the cinema.
I regard People Places Things as a strange title, but the movie is ever so witty and charming and cute. I laughed a lot. The characters are likeable and are doing their best to bumble through from day to day as best they know how. They are, of course, prone to making plenty of mistakes along the way because, let’s face it, life isn’t always clean.
Jemaine Clement is perfect in the lead – rumpled and uncool, but intelligent and amusing. Strouse has drawn a highly appealing character, whose effect is heightened because of the secondary characters around him. So, the key to the success of People Places Things is Strouse’s writing and the actors ability to inject warmth and simpatico into what Strouse has created.
It is a film that readily puts a smile on your dial and leaves you crying out for more chapters. I hadn’t heard anything about it before taking my seat. By the time I stood up I had no doubt that I have experienced an unexpected treat.
Rated M, People Places Things scores a 7½ to 8 out of 10.
Director: Jim Strouse
Cast: Jemaine Clement, Stephanie Allynne, Jessica Williams and Regina Hall
Release date: 10 September 2015 (limited)
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television