Film Review: "People, Places, Things"
People, Places, Things is a film written and directed by James C. Strouse (Grace Is Gone), which tells the story of Will Henry (Jemaine Clement), a graphic novelist and professor from New Zealand now living in New York. After a detailed prologue which brings the viewer up to date, we are presented with Will searching for his partner Charlie (Stephanie Allynne) on their twin daughter’s 5th birthday. He eventually locates Charlie who has been having sex with Gary (Michael Chernus)- a shirtless, overweight, off-Broadway monologist. Charlie states that while she still loves Will she hasn’t been happy for quite some time. Herein lies some of the major questions this film poses- is happiness a sustainable condition? Furthermore, with so many responsibilities in life how important is it to pursue the illusive concept of a sustainable happiness?
Fast-forward a year, Will is struggling to negotiating his way through life as a single parent still unable to come to terms with his failed relationship. With the exception of the unconditional love between he and his now 6 year old daughters whom he sees on weekends, he is lonely and depressed. To make matters worse, Charlie is moving on with her life and is evidently quite happy with Gary, who is now living in the house Will formerly called home. Will’s depression spills into his class which is noticed by one student Kat (Jessica Williams), who attempts to set him up with her mother Diane (Regina Hall).
Being a fan of Flight of the Conchords, the prospect of seeing Clement back in his natural habitat (New York, obviously) was an exciting one. I walked into the film feeling quite confident that I’d be getting a few laughs in, apparently so was the lady who sat next to me. In fact, she was so confident she’d find it funny, that at some points she preemptively burst into a roaring laughter before Clement was even able to deliver that sharp, dry punch line. Her cackle was often so loud and piercing, I’d miss the punchline completely.
People, Places, Things is a genuinely funny movie, but it certainly isn't perfect. For starters, it is drenched in unambiguous symbolism that leaves very little to the imagination. An example of this is the intermittent presentation of Will’s paintings that depict him in the dilemma he happens to be facing at the time. Although the pictures and their respective texts provide a quirky insight into the inner workings of his mind, it seems to go against the the fundamental rule of storytelling: "show, don't tell".
Another issue with the film is that there are some pretty sizeable plot holes. This is particularly the case with basically the entire narrative between Will and Diane. To begin with, Diane makes it known that she isn’t interested in pursuing a relationship with Will, however, the very next time they meet she she changes her tune completely. Though it was pretty obvious the first meeting wouldn’t be the last we saw of Diane, what happened between the two meetings that made her not only open up to the relationship but jump straight into it? In one scene when Will is explaining two story boards in class, he states that it is “what happens between the story boards that matters”. I guess this can be seen as an analogy for the film: The film provides the story boards, and the viewer can decide what goes between them.
People, Places, Things is by no means a masterpiece, but it doesn’t pretend to be one. Decidedly small in its ambition, the film achieves what it sets out to be: an enjoyable, well-acted but ultimately flawed comedy.