Sunday, March 13, 2016

"People Places Things": Nondescript Nouns The Movie

Now Available on DVD, Blu-ray, and Netflix

Technically, People Places Things is not a bad film.  However, much like that god-awful title, seemingly no effort was made to make it any good either.  Independent cinema, as insignificant as that label seems to be sometimes, has fallen victim to some pandering and repetitive tropes, and People Places Things feels like a distillation of those tropes into an insufferable amalgam of uninspired drivel.  The comedy is weak, the drama is weaker, and the plot is so inconsequential that it won’t be remembered by anyone who takes the time to sit through the entire film.

Sing along if you know the words: A single dad, Will, played by a notably quirky actor (in this case Flight of the Conchord's Jemaine Clement) tries to navigate his career, his divorce, raising his children, and his potential love life.  This plays like a softcore version of the show Louie, but without the avant garde cynicism that makes that show work so well.  The aforementioned career is as a professor teaching on how to make comic books, which simultaneously acts as an excuse to aggrandize higher education and include comic style art in the film’s production.  Neither of those are per say bad things, but here they feel like checkmarks on a laundry list of required indie swag.

Will’s divorce is supposedly played for laughs as his wife cheats on him during their twin daughters’ fifth birthday party, but this joke feels bizarre, nonsensical, and completely out-of-line for the supposed supermom the ex-wife later purports herself to be.  The separated couple shtick is also used for some trite scheduling conflict shenanigans that have been stale for years, yet are in no way reimagined to greater effect here.  This is only exasperated by how artificially precious the twin daughters are, with an exploitative cuteness rarely seen this side of the Olsen twins.

The one bright spot of the film comes in the form of Will’s romantic interest, a literature professor and mother of one of his students played by Regina Hall.  The nice thing about Hall’s inclusion is that not once is the potential for an interracial relationship acknowledged as weird or bizarre, which is shockingly still a trope elsewhere in modern cinema.  But beyond that, her character is still little more than a means for Will to move on with his life after his divorce, by no means an independent character with identifiable traits or personality.

Again, nothing I’ve said about this film is technically bad, but it feels so similar to parts of a million other movies out there that it does almost nothing to stand on its own.  The title People Places Things feels like such a slapdash attempt at indie coolness that it’s hardly surprising that the screenplay and performances feel much the same.  Don’t waste your time with this one.

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