[PEOPLE PLACES THINGS opens in Cleveland on Friday August 14th exclusively at the Cedar Lee Theatre.]
Review by Pamela Zoslov
There is nothing
revolutionary about James C. Strouse's PEOPLE PLACES THINGS.
Many of the story elements of this modest independent have been seen
many times, even in films as recent as this summer's Infinitely
Polar Bear, which also depicted a dad struggling to care for two
young daughters. Yet the movie has its own distinctive charm, as well
as a disarming lead performance by New Zealand-born Jemaine Clement.
Clement plays Will Henry, a
40-year-old graphic novelist who lives in Manhattan with his
girlfriend Charlie (Stephanie Allwynne) and their twin daughters,
Clio and Colette (Aundrea and Gia Gadsby). During the girls' fifth
birthday party, Will walks in on Charlie having sex with Gary
(Michael Chernus), a chubby monologuist. Absurdly, she blames Will
for her infidelity, claiming “You pushed me into this.” She
hasn't been happy. She wants to study improv. Will's response is one
of existential gloom: “Happiness is not really a sustainable
Relegated to a studio
apartment in Astoria, Will carries his depression into his classroom
at the School of Visual Arts, where he teaches aspiring
writer-illustrators. (Will's hyper-realistic art in the movie was
drawn by Gray Williams.) “Why does life suck so hard?” he writes
on the board as the topic of the day. A sympathetic student, Kat
(Jessica Williams, familiar from The Daily Show), invites him
to dinner. Will thinks she's asking him for a date, and when he
demurs, Kat recoils in horror. “That is so gross!” She
actually wants him to meet her single mom, Diane (Regina Hall). Diane
is an American literature professor at Columbia who thinks graphic
novels are beneath consideration. Will's dinner with her is amusingly
awkward. Is she familiar with New Zealand? No, Diane says, but she
has seen all the “Hobbit” movies. “So you know all about
us,” Will says drily, “and our ways.”
The film is mostly concerned
with Will's efforts to be a good dad, juggling parenting with
Charlie's progressing relationship with Gary, his tentative
relationship with Diane, his classes, and the book he's working on.
The estranged couple can't quite get the hang of dividing the girls'
time, leading to many panicky epidodes of rushing about. “You can't
just pass them back and forth like puppies,” Diane admonishes at
one point. Will and Charlie also have unresolved feelings, leading
Will to think they might get back together.
Will is a loving and creative
dad, flying kites with them, taking them camping, and carting them to
their cello lessons. The father-and-daughters motif is clearly
important to Strouse, who also wrote and directed the sad Grace Is Gone (2007), in which a father
takes his girls on the road to avoid telling them their mother was
killed in Iraq. Strouse may have less feeling for the experiences of
women. Charlie's behavior, for instance, seems questionable from the
start (shagging her lover during the kids' birthday party?) . All we
know about Charlie is that she “gave up everything” to support
Will's comics career. Diane's story is also a bit hackneyed: she's
been disappointed many times by men.
best moments belong to Clement, whose background is in musical sketch
comedy. The film's main pleasure is in his deadpan, Kiwi-accented
delivery of clever remarks, and his low-key banter with his romantic
rival, Gary. 3 out of 4 stars.