REVIEW: People Places Things

24 04 2015

People Places ThingsRiverRun International Film Festival

To the surprise of everyone who goes to the movies today, Woody Allen tends to think he is not a very influential filmmaker.  In just the past year, however, I cited “Obvious Child,” “Begin Again,” “Wish I Was Here,” and “Listen Up Phillip” as bearing the stamp of his stylistic inspiration.  Yet none of those come close to how Jim Strouse’s “People Places Things” approximates Allen’s work.

Were it not for the cutesy classroom instruments score, I might honestly have thought Allen directed the film himself had there been no name listed in the credits.  I need to check and see if the repeated mantra, “Happiness is not a sustainable lifestyle,” is ever uttered by one of Allen’s curmudgeonly characters or surrogates.

“People Places Things” provides a deserved moment in the spotlight to Jemaine Clement, the Kiwi comedian, after thankless supporting roles in big-budget mediocrities like “Dinner for Schmucks” and “Men in Black III.”  In his character Will’s own words, he’s just having a bad life.  He catches his life partner cheating on him at their twin girls’ birthday party, feels professionally frustrated in his work as animator and professor, and still lives in Astoria.  There are only so many traumas a person can withstand before they take to the streets and start screaming!

Throughout the film, he tries first and foremost to succeed in his roles as father and teacher.  But romantic feelings for his ex as well as his student’s mother (Regina Hall) sprout up, usually leaving Will reeling.  In the mere 85 minutes of “People Places Things,” the character undergoes a full journey of juggling his many roles and figuring out what really matters.  Credit Strouse for keeping the film on thoughtful, measured footing.  It would have been all too easy for the whole enterprise to become as frenetic as its neurotic protagonist.  B+3stars

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