Sunday, September 18, 2016

Other People (***)

Written and Directed by Chris Kelly


Other People is the kind of Sundance-y tragicomedy that has the capacity to really produce a heavy duty eye-roll from me, but Chris Kelly (a comedy writer for Saturday Night Live and Broad City) does deliver some pretty tremendous stuff here in his first feature film. His script is autobiographical, with actor Jesse Plemons playing David, a comedy writer from NYC who moves back to Sacramento to live with his parents while his mother Joanne (a dynamite Molly Shannon) deals with cancer. David's father, Norman (Bradley Whitford), is a well-meaning but straight-laced conservative who has never truly accepted David's homosexuality, and while David spends a year trying to help his sick mother, he must also cope with the erosion of a five year relationship with his boyfriend Paul (Zach Woods) and the tumultuous downward slope of his professional career. Kelly writes for television mostly, and there are times when Other People seems to try too hard to fit its complicated emotions into simple sitcom comedic tropes. The film works best when it entrenches itself deeply into its emotional core, embracing its crippling tale of mortality. The performances from Jesse Plemons and Molly Shannon are outstanding, the two actors perfectly illustrating a mother-son relationship that has only been strengthened by past turmoil. David as a character is struggling with his own issues, and is subsequently bogged down by a guilt that comes with thinking of yourself when others are in pain. Joanne is dealing with her own approaching death, and that piercing balance of worrying about yourself versus worrying about those who care about you. Other People is obviously enriched by personal experience, but it helps to have as strong a performance as you get here from the two lead actors. A Sundance weepy Other People sure is, but it doesn't mean there isn't a terrific film in there, even if its only in spurts.

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