Come back home, where everyone hates and judges you. It’s always a great time.
At the ripe age of 29, David (Jesse Plemons) finally knows feel himself. For one, he’s come out to everyone around him and is finally working as a writer and not having a single worry in the world. However, that all changes when he has to move back to Sacramento to go and see his family, mostly because his mother (Molly Shannon), has come down with a pretty severe case of cancer. But no matter what distractions may be in his job, or in his love life, David keeps his attention solely on his mom who, unlike his conservative father (Bradley Whitford), actually accepts him for who he is and not what he should have turned out to be. Of course, over the time that David spends with his family, they get into fights, arguments, discussions, and all sorts of other stuff that family tends to get into, while the mother of the family is sitting there, wondering just where her life is going to take her next and whether or not this is all going to be the last moments she spends with not just her family, but on Earth in general.
So yeah, basically imagine the Hollars, but with not nearly as many stars in the roles and a way better, smarter direction and script to work with and yeah, you’ve got Other People. Of course, it’s the same kind of Sundance movie in which a young, constipated man returns to his family home where he’s subject to all sorts of criticism and praise for all of the decisions he may have, or may have not made, in the years since his leave. It’s conventional in terms of format, but whereas the Hollars felt like it barely had anything to say or do with that convention, Other People actually does do something and has something to say, which is basically that, “yeah, people die, but other people live, too.”
It sounds so simple, but trust me, played out in the film, and through writer/director Chris Kelly’s lenses and words, it works out so well.
That said, Other People isn’t a perfect movie; often times, its small, subtle tone and approach to its plot can get in the way of what could have been some really raw, emotional moments, but that’s neither here nor there. I have to give credit to Kelly for at least taking a smaller approach to this material and not just demanding our tears at every waking moment; instead, he gradually takes his time, waiting for the moments to come up and just constantly building these characters, their relationships, and each one of their personalities, so that we get a better idea of who we’re dealing with and whether or not they’re actually worth giving a damn about in the first place. And considering that Kelly comes from a SNL background, it’s surprising to see him, as a writer, wait for the right moments to actually strike the audience with a serious bit of laughter, or tears, rather than just going for it when he feels bored.
Is that a dig at SNL? Quite possibly, but hey, that’s neither here, nor there.
What matters most is that Other People, while dealing with a conventional and yes, formulaic plot, also does small, little wonders with it that helps it become so much more than just another chance for a bunch of famous, good-looking people, to slum it in low-budget, grainy-looking indies. Instead, it’s a movie that has a beating heart, that has something to say about cancer, family, relationships, and love, but at the same time, doesn’t; Kelly isn’t looking to force messages of drama and loveliness down our throats but instead, just give us a tender story that sort of shows us everything that he wants to get across or say.
Basically, he does a lot of “showing”, and not “telling”, which for any writer or director, that’s a smart thing to do. Kelly may not have a huge background in movies just yet, but he makes a lot of smart decisions that so many other well-experienced and legendary directors have made and continue to seem to be making. So if anything, yes, let’s hope that Kelly continues to work and show the world that hey, sometimes it’s always better to play it a little low-key, eh?
Anyway, the cast is also very good and another reason why Other People works as well as it does. It’s nice to see Jesse Plemons take on a much more realistic and naturalistic role that shows him in a more interesting light that, honestly, we haven’t seen from him since the days of Landry. That said, Plemons is still great here, showing a lot of smart, but also naivete to a character who may have it all figured out, but may also not. There’s a fine line he plays with this character and it works, allowing him to be both insightful, as well as just normal enough that he doesn’t get in the way of the rest of the characters and performances.
And that’s why Molly Shannon shines so much as his mother, Joanne. As Joanne, Shannon has a lot of heavy-lifting to do, which means she gets a chance to cry a whole lot and just be a total mess, but it’s never done for shows, nor does it ever feel overdone – it’s actually bare and raw, something that you’d most likely see in real life, being done by a real person in her situation. It’s interesting to say this, too, because Shannon’s obviously not fully known for her dramatic-roles, and here, she shows that she’s more than up to the task of delivering. Sure, she can still be a barrel of laughs when she wants to, too, but when she wants to make us cry, she can still work with that, too.
Why she isn’t a whole lot bigger and more recognized is totally beyond me.
Consensus: As simple and straightforward as you can get with a Sundance indie, Other People may not change the world, but offers up charming, heartfelt writing, along with some great performances to make it feel like a nice little family outing worth spending time with.
7.5 / 10