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People Places Things

This is what an adult coming-of-age movie looks like.
By Sarah Ward
September 25, 2015
By Sarah Ward
September 25, 2015

Sometimes, the spirit of a movie can stem from something as simple as sole stroke of casting. Sometimes, the right actor in the right role so perfectly encapsulates the material to come that everything else hangs off of that one performance — even if everything else is finely done but also familiar, as well as quite slight.

In People Places Things, that one actor and portrayal springs from Jemaine Clement, otherwise known as one half of musical comedy duo — and star of the TV series of the same name — Flight of the Conchords. If his turn as vampire lothario Vladislav in 2014's uproarious What We Do in the Shadows demonstrated a more heightened version of his antics, then writer/director James C. Strouse's (Grace Is Gone) latest feature celebrates him at his most deadpan and understated.

Clement plays Will Henry, a New Zealand-born, New York-based graphic artist happily married to Charlie (Stephanie Allynne), and just as happily helping raise twin daughters Clio (Aundrea Gadsby) and Colette (Gia Gadsby) — or so he thinks. That upbeat emotion fades at his offspring's fifth birthday party amid revelations that Charlie wants to leave him for the man, Gary (Michael Chernus), she has been having an affair with.

Fast-forward to a year later, with the newly single Will struggling with part-time parenting, not to mention full-time estrangement from the now-engaged and pregnant woman he thought he'd share his life with, and teaching at an art school to make ends meet. One of his more eager students, Kat (Jessica Williams), tries to set him up with her mother, Diane (Regina Hall). Alas, his considerable baggage threatens to derail any chance they have at forging a relationship.

People Places Things may read like a typical mid-life malaise rom-com, and even initially threatens to follow such a path, but Strouse remains more concerned with Will's state of mind than his romantic endeavours. Love features prominently, as do laughs, but this is an effort steeped in finding internal contentment rather external companionship. The strong focus on Will's search to reclaim his sense of self — aka an adult coming-of-age — helps salvage his traversing of the usual plot points. That too has a been-there, seen-that quality, though in the filmmaker's hands it is thoughtfully written and elegantly executed, and in Clement's portrayal it feels real.

Always awkward and dry, albeit authentically so, as well as enjoying impeccable timing, he's an ideal fit to deliver straight-faced puns about pain and embarrassment that sparkle with both truth and wit. He's also in good company when it comes to the commanding Williams and Hall, who each beg for more screen time, even if the narrative doesn't deliver.

Other than the cast, the hand-drawn images by Gray Williams draw the eye, all passed off as Will's work and proving as charming as the actor who plays him. They're small sketches that map out big things, as the lead performance is as well. If only all such sincere and sweet yet still slender and recognisable efforts could possess such gifts.

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