I thought I had made a mistake in choosing to watch People Places Things, a quaint but sweet comedy, in the opening moments, due to how strategic and generic the first few scenes are. Will (Jemaine Clement) walks in on his wife, Charlie (Stephanie Allynne), having an affair with Gary (Michael Chemus). The comedy in this one scene is hardly indicative of tone of the film as a whole, as it leans further on slapstick than the natural give and take charm of its actors. Luckily, the opening scene is brief despite being clunky, and it passes into a sweeter, genuinely funny film that’s more interested in the people telling the jokes than the jokes themselves.
After finding out that his wife has been having an affair, Will falls into a bit of a slump. He’s an artist who teaches an art class on graphic novels, and all of his drawings seem to have a picture of his wife in them. At about the same time in his life, one of his students, played by The Daily Show’s Jessica Williams, sets Will up on a date with her mom, Diane (Regina Hall), and he decides he wants more than just the weekends with his daughters.
It’s in moments with his twin daughters that the movie comes to life. The score by Mark Orton is twinkling as he brings them on camping trips, races through the woods, or watches as they desperately try to fly a kite. The rapport is effortless and never reads as forced. My main introduction to the comic stylings of Clement had been the hilarious What We Do in the Shadows, so People Places Things is a nice comparative piece, as the actor tones down some of his wilder hijinks and substitutes in the air of a guy trying to do the best he can while falling prey to his own inability to get out of his own way. His scenes with the girls and his scenes with Hall (who is also brilliant) are when he’s at his best. Hall in particular is a highlight, and we could have used more of her in the film. Written and directed by James C. Strouse, the script is often bare, with the actors filling in the blanks with natural charm, and Hall managed to make Diane a three-dimensional character despite the short amount of time she had.
Charlie is a whole other issue, one that has nothing to do with Allynne’s performance. She is written so shrewdly, with so few redeemable qualities that you’re left wondering not only why Will is so hung up on her, but also, why he fell for her in the first place. I’ll call this the Midnight in Paris problem (to jog your memory, Rachel McAdams is written to be a horrible person so we all support Owen Wilson running away with another woman at the end, but she’s written to be so awful that we don’t get why they’re together in the first place).
The cast is uniformly strong, enough so to make up for some of the weaker elements (the opening, Charlie, etc.) and there’s an honesty to the idea of Will and Charlie’s relationship, and to Diane’s problem with how the two are letting their own lives and more selfish tendencies disrupt their children’s lives. The movie also cares about it’s characters. Even when it’s hard to find redeemable qualities in Charlie, we can tell that the movie isn’t trying to crucify her, it’s simply the script letting her down when she’s placed next to the laid-back Charlie, the warm Dianne, and the fun Kat.
It’s less a story and more a blip in time of these characters, these flawed, no-bullshit characters. The opening doesn’t flow with the rest of the film because it’s so obviously narrative setup, while the rest feels like moments that we’re getting to peek into. For better and for worse, People Places Things thrives on its smaller take on family and the talent in front of the camera that effortlessly breathes life into it.
People Places Things is out on a limited release now as well as on VOD platforms.