Reviewer: Freda Cooper
Director: Chris Kelly
Stars: Jesse Plemons, Bradley Whitford, Molly Shannon, June Squibb
Screened at Sundance London on 3rd and 4th June
Hell, as Jean Paul Sartre famously said, is other people. Which seems to be what writer/director Chris Kelly had in mind with his debut feature film, “Other People”, showing this week at Sundance London.
And, if the film is anything to go by, they most definitely are – but in the nicest possible way. It doesn’t matter how much you care about them or they you: they still drive you nuts, saying and/or doing the wrong thing, even if their intentions are totally genuine. C’mon, admit it! We’ve all thought that at some time or another. For writer David (Jesse Plemons), it happens all the time and it’s even more noticeable during the 12 months that he helps care for his terminally ill mother (Molly Shannon). His personal life is a mess as well: the break-up of his long term relationship is still all too fresh in his mind and his writing career is floundering, with his latest script dropped by a major TV network.
This could easily be the sleeper hit of Sundance London, with its pitch perfect blend of comedy and tragedy. It alternates between the two on a sixpence, if not something smaller, with its razor-sharp observations of 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, while the more serious moments have you reaching for the nearest tissue or shoulder. And you feel guilty because you were laughing just seconds beforehand. And then it corkscrews again.
Given the nature of the story, it would be easy to tell it in soft focus, but Kelly doesn’t sugarcoat anything, perhaps because much of it is based on his own experiences. The intimate moments between David and his partner are a look at what happens behind the proverbially closed doors. There’s the hurt at his father’s (Bradley Whitford) refusal to accept his lifestyle: he never asks his son about his partner, but he’s always curious about his daughters’ love lives. And then there’s the indignities, as well as the physical and emotional pain, of his mother’s illness and her visible decline, which happens in parallel with the new houses being built across the road. Life, inevitably and relentlessly, goes on.
The cast is flawless, with Jesse Plemons moving away from heavier roles, most recently in “Black Mass”, to something more sympathetic and with a gentle, understated comic style. Molly Shannon is heart breaking as his mother, vibrantly defying her illness at the start and defeated nearer the end. And there’s something of a discovery in the shape of J J Totah as Justin, the son of one of David’s friends. The boy is a total scene stealer: he only appears twice, but he’s unforgettable.
As yet, “Other People” doesn’t have a release date for the UK but it really deserves a wider audience. Hopefully this appearance at Sundance London will help it land that all-important distribution deal. In the meantime, don’t miss it if you can help it.