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Review: People Places Things (2015)

People Places Things (2015)

Directed by: James C. Strouse

Premise: A teacher and graphic novelist (Jemaine Clemant) attempts to adjust to life following his divorce. He shares custody of his twin daughters and struggles to let go of his ex-wife while starting a new romance.

What Works: People Places Things is about creating a new normal after the upheaval of divorce and establishing stability amid a chaotic situation. These are familiar themes to movies about divorce but People Places Things is distinguished in its authenticity. The film is led by Jemaine Clemant and this is an unusual performance for the actor. Clemant usually plays idiotic or offbeat characters as in Flight of the Conchords and What We Do in the Shadows and while he is slightly aloof in People Places Things Clemant is also more nuanced and more real than any major role that he has had before. Much of the movie involves this father being a parent to his daughters and these are many of the best scenes in the film. Clemant and the two young actresses, Aundrea Gadsby and Gia Gadsby, have a credible rapport. Following the divorce, the father has custody of the children on the weekends. He wants to see more of them but his wife lives in New York City, where their children attend school, whereas he is outside the city, making the logistics a nightmare. Meanwhile, the wife is going through her own process of rediscovery; she is set to remarry but the uncertainty of the future causes stress on everyone’s part. The relationship between the ex-spouses and between Jemaine Clemant’s character and his kids’ stepfather-to-be, played by Michael Chernus, is another of the notable aspects of People Places Things. Even though one party is clearly at fault for the dissolution of the marriage the movie doesn’t trouble itself to be vindictive and there is a great deal of empathy to go around among these characters. The upheaval and uncertainty of their futures leads them to hold on to fragments of their failed marriage and as circumstances get more chaotic there is a temptation to try and restore the way things used to be. But the movie is smarter than that, with the filmmakers recognizing that there is no way to go backward. When Hollywood movies deal with divorced families they tend to turn it into a circus like Four Christmases or—much worse—inspire false hope with tales of separated parents reconciling. The filmmakers of People Places Things embrace the fact that the future is uncertain and tell a story that is at turns funny, sad, but also hopeful in a way that’s not disingenuous.

What Doesn’t: The weakest element of People Places Things is its ending. The movie resolves the relationship between Clemant’s character and his ex-wife but there is a lot more to say and the film concludes before tying up all of its loose ends. Part of what’s missing in the movie is the relationship between Clemant’s character and his new love played by Regina Hall. Their romance is very sweet and it has some authentic beats, especially as older singles who have been through divorce and understand heartbreak, but the movie does not give them enough screen time. Their budding relationship stumbles late in the story but the event upsetting their romance doesn’t seem like enough to shatter their relationship especially given the rapport that they have on screen. This is where the ending is incomplete. In one sense it is admirable that the filmmakers don’t opt for a cliché running-to-the-airport finale but there isn’t quite enough here. The subplot creates an additional problem. This woman is the mother of one of his students, played by Jessica Williams; there is an ethical problem with that but more importantly there is more to say about Williams’ character than is explored in the movie.

DVD extras: None.

Bottom Line: People Places Things is a fine little movie about a family struggling with love and parenthood after a divorce. The film is sweet without becoming saccharine and it has interesting and engaging performances by its cast.

Episode: #576 (January 3, 2016)