Written & Directed by James C. Strouse
The beauty of cinema is the fact that there are stories out there that cover nearly anything and everything a person may be interested in seeing or learning about. There are tons of genres, and even sub-genres below that to entertain, frighten, uplift, and to provide an escape for the audience. In today’s cinema realm, there are so many independent options amidst the big dollar, big studio summer blockbusters and awards season dramas that many films can go unnoticed by many. There is also a chance that if you look hard enough you can find the loving father and husband with beautiful twin daughters who gets cheated on by his wife and subsequently fights to spend more time with his children and deals with the break-up of his family by writing a graphic novel about it meanwhile slightly falling in love with one of his student’s mothers sub-genre.
Well, look no further, as that is exactly what People Places Things delivers. Certainly there is sarcasm in what I write, but I’m just trying to accentuate how diverse cinema in this country has become (let alone if you introduce world cinema). And I think such a vague title as People Places Things suits not only the content and message of the film itself, but also how such a unique independent film can appeal to masses while also being quite specific and, to some extent, generic in its delivery and plotting. There are no big stars in this film, but it is filled with good actors (Jemaine Clement, Regina Hall). There are no big moments in the film, but it is filled with many good ones. There are no great jokes in the film, but it is filled with subtle humor.
I think a lot of what makes People Places Things charming is found within its efficiency and authenticity. It falls into the contrivances of modern independent filmmaking, it’s true, but like Me & Earl & the dying Girl earlier this year, it is in its ability to transcend those contrivances that the film becomes endearing and in fact entertaining. The small, authentic moments I mentioned above take over the more artificial ones that are there as selling points. When writer/director James C. Strouse is able to clearly deliver on what he is setting out to do, when he creates those moments between people instead of simply characters, that is when the film is at its best, and that is when People Places and Things becomes more than a generic indie film and is able to establish itself as its own film.
Exploring what it means to be rejected, and for no real known reason, Will (Clement) becomes instantly sympathetic, which is convenient for the story, but Clement’s performance really builds on that concept and earns the sympathy as we see him passionate about his work, passionate about his students, and passionate about his daughters, as hard as he tries to spend more and more time with them. He is a flawed man too, of course, but it is the flaws that make him human, and allow Clement to provide the token witty comedy of an indie drama. Clement seems the perfect fit for this role and his sense of humor is a welcomed element to the formula.
The confusion of the side relationship with Diane (Hall) and his mentoring of Kat (Jessica Williams) may seem like oddities and Strouse doesn’t quite follow through on these ideas like I wish he would have, but they breathe new life into Will, conveniently providing him with a purpose moving on without Charlie (Stephanie Allynne). Essentially what I have found in reflection on People Places Things is that the film mirrors its main character in many ways. Will is smart, funny, charming and loving. He has the best of intentions, but like anyone else, he doesn’t always know what he’s doing in life, or what he is working towards. His heart is in the right place, and is easy to like for that reason. The flaws are just part of the package.