Title: Other People
Director: Chris Kelly
Major Players: Jesse Plemons, Bradley Whitford, Molly Shannon, June Squibb
Out Of Five: Four
Hell, as Jean Paul Sartre famously said, is other people. And, while writer/director Chris Kelly’s Other People (shown at this weekend’s Sundance London) strikes an autobiographical note, there’s more than a suggestion that the quote was in the back of his mind as well.
And other people can be hell, no matter how much you care about them and they you. They still drive you nuts, unintentionally saying the wrong thing and doing others, even if their intentions are good and even heartfelt. For writer David (Jesse Plemons) it seems to happen all the time and he gets through it with a reluctant smile. It’s even worse during the 12 months when he helps care for his terminally ill mother (Molly Shannon). His personal life is a mess too, having split up from his long-term partner, and his career isn’t going well, with his latest script getting the thumbs down from a major TV network.
It’s a film that makes turning on a knife edge an art form, switching from comedy to tragedy in the blink of an eye and back again, with its pin-point observations on human nature, funny and otherwise. There are times when the humour hits a nerve so squarely it makes you wince, others when it simply makes you laugh out loud: the more serious moments give you a lumpy throat and smarting eyes. Plus a large dollop of guilt because you were laughing just seconds beforehand. And then it corkscrews again.
At the same time, it doesn’t fall into the trap of sugar coating its subjects. The private moments between David and his partner are truly tender and intimate. David’s father (Bradley Whitford) can’t bring himself to accept his son’s lifestyle and never asks about his partner, even though he frequently asks his daughter about their boyfriends. And it doesn’t shy away from the indignity that goes with the mother’s illness: the physical and emotional pain and her gradual decline, which happens in parallel with the construction of new family homes across the road. Life, it seems, always goes on.
It’s superbly acted by a great cast. For Jesse Plemons, usually associated with heavies as in Black Mass, this is a change in direction, giving him the chance to show an understated comic style. Molly Shannon is heart breaking as the mother, constantly fighting her disease, with or without treatment, but moving inevitability from feistiness to fragility. And there’s also something of a discovery in the shape of J J Totah, who plays Justin, the flamboyant pre-pubescent son of one of David’s friends. He’s an outrageous scene stealer at the age of just 14.
Sundance London has come up with yet another small gem in Other People, which I sense could be the sleeper hit of the festival. It’s yet another debut feature film and one that ticks all the emotional boxes but, as yet, there’s no UK release date. Could somebody change that, please?
Other People was shown at Sundance London and reviewed on Talking Pictures on 2 June.