Chris Kelly‘s Other People, the first narrative drama screened at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, struck me as deftly written and persuasively well-acted but fraught with self-pity and a little too glum. Wading through and meditating upon cancer death will have that affect. But it’s delicate and restrained and absorbing as far as it goes. And occasionally amusing. But…I don’t know what else to say. I felt a certain respect more than affection.
Jesse Plemons, Molly Shannon in Chris Kelly’s Other People.
Some in the Eccles audience were reportedly choking up; not this horse. After the show I spoke to two or three guys (i.e., writers) who were partly critical; one was outright dismissive. I later saw on Twitter that others (but not all) were putting it down.
Relatively few will pay to see this in theatres but it’s really not half bad, especially in terms of the acting. I never pulled back or disconnected; I always felt engaged. There’s already a consensus that Molly Shannon, who plays a spirited suburban mom dying of leiomyosarcoma, will be Best Actress-nominated for a Spirit or a Gotham Award. And that the low-key, somewhat pudgy, ginger-haired Jesse Plemons scores also as her son, a gay showbiz writer grappling with more than just the immediate tragedy at hand.
Kelly’s loosely autobiographical film is about Plemons, a 29 year-old showbiz writer who returns home to drab Sacramento to hang with his cancer-stricken mom (Shannon) as she withers away under the care of Plemons’ under-written homophobic dad (Bradley Whitford) while his two younger sisters (Maude Apatow, Madisen Beaty) watch and fret.
It’s a melancholy scenario compounded by Plemons’ writing career having hit a brick wall (a pilot he wrote has been deep-sixed) plus a five-year relationship with a live-in boyfriend (Zach Woods) has gone south. Plemons hangs with an old gay pal (a winning John Early) There’s not much to do at the homestead but hug and hold hands and wait for the inevitable, but it takes nearly a full year. It goes on and on but not boringly — it just happens to take months. The story, I mean.
More and more we learn and explore and assemble the various pieces, although Plemons’ character definitely lacks what most of us would call an “arc.”
I almost called Other People “morose as fuck” but it never quite sinks down into a depression pit. The writing is skillful; there is air coming in through a window. There’s no difficulty believing it on a scene-by-scene, slog-along basis.
The 9 pm Eccles showing of Other People followed a well-received doc at 5 pm — Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady‘s Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You. It’s Friday morning with the first screening of the day (i.e., an 82-minute opener for Hulu’s 11.22.63) about to begin so I’ll have to pick this up later.