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People, Places, Things Movie Review

Title: People, Places, Things

Director: Jim Strouse

Starring: Jemaine Clement, Regina Hall, Stephanie Allynne, Jessica Williams, Michael Chernus

An actor can be enough of a reason to see a movie. Jemaine Clement was one of the two members of New Zealand folk parody duo Flight of the Conchords and starred in the HBO show of the same name. Since then, he has appeared in films like Eagle vs. Shark and Gentlemen Broncos, portraying odd, sarcastic individuals whose lines are almost always entertaining. Now, Clement anchors another film, Jim Strouse’s People, Places, Things, but with a distinctly different performance, equally hilarious but playing a normal guy just trying to get through life.

Will (Clement) searches for his wife during his twin daughters’ fifth birthday party and finds Charlie (Stephanie Allynne) having sex with Gary (Michael Chernus). In an uncomfortable but amusing scene, Charlie tells Will that she cannot be with him. The story picks up again a year later as Will, a graphic artist who teaches about drawing comic books and graphic novels, struggles to be a positive presence in his daughters’ life from his apartment in Astoria. When his student Kat (Jessica Williams) tries to set him up with her mother Diane (Regina Hall), Will begins to see his life changing out of his control.

The way in which Will deals with his circumstances is undeniably funny. He makes snide comments about Gary every time that he sees Charlie and deliberately does the opposite of whatever she asks him to do with their children. His outlook on life, particularly that happiness is not sustainable, is hardly optimistic, and as a result he draws many comics with a version of himself sitting and saying that he is lonely. That sardonic sense of humor creates hilarious class sessions and other memorable moments with Will at the center, haplessly standing by and observing the unpredictable awkwardness of his life.

Will’s story is one both of growing into responsible parenthood and into responsible adulthood. Charlie accuses him of being the fun parent, always there to make sure his kids have a good time when they are with him but never around for the more difficult and challenging aspects of being a present parent. He is certainly sweet with his children and it is endearing to see them spend time together, and to enjoy the fact that they teach him just as much as he teaches them. His interactions with the two major women in his life – Charlie and Diane – are also eye-opening and deeply entertaining.

Clement does a tremendous job playing Will, making him relatable but not too accessible, perfect for carrying comic situations without milking them for more than they are worth. The rest of the cast is equally fantastic. Aundrea and Gia Gadsby, who were adorable when asked if they plan to act again at a Sundance Q & A, are delightful as Will’s precocious daughters Cilo and Collette. Williams is spunky and cool as Kat. Hall makes Diane into a marvelously layered – and unapologetically snarky – character, and Allynne is similarly excellent as Charlie, who channels a lot of energy and passion into her conversations with a permanently frazzled Will. This stellar cast is united by a strong, consistently funny script from writer-director Jim Strouse, who guides this film to great places with great people and things.

This U.S. Dramatic Competition entry has held several public screenings in Park City thus far, with two more scheduled.

Technical: B+

Acting: A-

Story: B+

Overall: B+

Written by Abe Fried-Tanzer

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