When one thinks of Jemaine Clement, one may think of the actor/comedian/musician’s exploits on the HBO gem Flight of the Concords, that and his villainous role in Men in Black 3, his voice role in the animated Rio films, and his zany vampiric turn in What We Do in the Shadows. Born and bred in New Zealand, Clement is something of an anomaly, someone who is multi-talented and highly recognizable due to his unique comedic style. The new independent dramedy People Places Things is a slight departure from that style and places the gifted actor in a place where he struggles with personal strife surrounding his family and pretty much everyone else around him. The film is a gritty, funny and at times, heartbreaking look at relationships, growing up and responsibility.
People Places Things focuses on Will (Clement), a graphic novelist and college professor who catches his wife Charlie (Stephanie Allynne) cheating on him in the beginning of the film. This sends Will in a tailspin as he now must focus more energy on taking care of his two young daughters. After the breakup, Will moves into a cramped little apartment in Astoria, Queens and shows serious signs of depression and utter misery. The well-being of his girls and his dedication to his work are what pretty much keep him sane, not to mention a random romance with another professor, Diane (Regina Hall).
The independent dramedy is basically replacing the standard Hollywood blockbuster. Pretty much everywhere you look, there’s some young hotshot filmmaker attempting to make a genuine reflection of real life and putting it on celluloid. James C. Strouse (Grace is Gone, New York, I Love You) is one such hotshot and his forays into the human psyche are always more than welcome. He has a certain gift when it comes to storytelling and characters. Will in People Places Things is complex, weak in some scenes and strong in others. He is someone audiences can truly get behind, a guy who is living in this world and is subjected to pain and gloom. He is a “real” person and it is through this character that audiences identify and root for him. He is, in many respects, a hero and that is exactly what audiences need, not a “superhero” but a hero, a flesh and blood champion of the human condition.
Jemaine Clement’s performance in People Places Things has tapped into something very rare in modern movies. With his beautifully honest portrayal, we have an almost Woody Allen-esque role, one that is really quite special. Other special performances in the film include Jessica Williams (The Daily Show, Hot Tub Time Machine 2) who plays a wise and stellar student of Will’s. Young Aundrea Gadsby and Gia Gadsby play Will’s two daughters and while they are children, they bring to the film some additional gravitas. They ground Will and the interactions they have with him provide for some of the best moments in the picture. Audiences who like to wipe away sadness with a good chuckle should definitely check out People Places Things. It is an understated flick that might get lost through the cracks and if that is what happens, then it would be a tragedy because this is a smart film with a lot going for it.