If there is a type of indie film that has become incredibly tired and in need of a makeover, it is the adult beginner movie, e.g. the pre-mid-life crisis where someone learns to stop focusing on career and cherish the family at hand. Thankfully, People Places Things takes that very type, removes the polish, rubs it in the dirt and injects some much-needed life.
Will Henry (Jemaine Clement) is a comic book artists and teacher in the vein of Scott McCloud, serious but with a casual attitude. He is happily married — or so he thinks — with twin daughters. But when he catches his wife, Charlie (Stephanie Allynne) cheating on him with professional monologist, Gary (Michael Chernus), — on their daughter’s fifth birthday party no less — it’s over and Will moves to a flat in Astoria and focuses on his comic books.
But all is not well in NYC, and Charlie doesn’t want to be solely responsible for the twins and shoves Clio and Colette (Aundrea and Gia Gadsby) off on Will. Will, in stereotypical Dad fashion, can barely get them up on time, forgets their Tuesday cello lessons and feeds them pizza for breakfast. Yet, Will isn’t a total wash and welcomes the challenge. Clio and Colette like their father, and it is the absence of conflict and tension — even with Gary, the professional monologist — that gives People Places Things a breath of fresh air. The surface of People Places Things is incredibly trite, but writer/director James C. Strouse slyly incorporates and weaves themes of inadequacy, un-sureness, romantic missteps and just plain blundering through his script without stopping the picture cold or relying too heavily on familiar tropes.
It also helps that he has Clement and his deadpan delivery at his disposal. Clement appears in roughly every scene of the movie and manages to never run out of steam, or steal too much from the other players. His interactions with Charlie allude to an authentic married couple, while other scenes with a love interest, Diana (Regina Hall), are dealt with tenderness and geniality. However, it is Will’s scenes with his student, Kat (Jessica Williams), that Strouse shows a sure handedness. In a lesser movie, Kat and Will would engage in relations despite their age difference, but here that idea is acknowledged and immediately dismissed for the ridiculous notion that it is.
People Places Things shows that even a tired genre piece can always stand a different slant and a new set of tires. It isn’t a perfect piece — some shot-reverse-shots come off clunky while other moments call for Clement to act beyond his range — but they are slight missteps in an otherwise humorous and fulfilling product.