While Jemaine Clement has always been funny (he was half of the duo Flight of the Conchords), his film “People Places Things” makes the unexpected case for him as a charming leading man. True, he is a hero of the shambling indie variety, but to see him as Will Henry, a single father trying to do the best by his adorable twin daughters, is affecting. That is basically the sum total of the film, but it’s sweet and funny.
The film starts when Will walks in on his girlfriend, Charlie, in bed with another man at their twins’ birthday party. This is unforgivable, not just in a mother and partner, but as a birthday party hostess. One year later, they are still co-parenting their daughters and she has moved on, but Will has not. His ex has the most amazing ability to be in the wrong yet on a high horse the entire time. It is a well-written contrast to Will, who is all slumped-over apologies and silently suffering. It was his passivity that drove her away in the first place, and it continues to derail his life.
We do get insight into his character through his drawings. Will is a graphic novelist and college teacher, and working on a project depicting his family. He faces a gigantic brick wall, with Charlie on the other side in bed with the other man, and their twins precipitously on top.
As Charlie plans her wedding to her new guy, Will says he wants to spend more time with his daughters. He notices, quite correctly, how unsettled they are by their mom’s life changes and wants to give them stability, even though actually doing this eludes him. He is, most of all, terribly lonely.
One of his brightest students invites him to dinner because she sees him as a potential date for her mom, a lovely but distant woman played by Regina Hall. The presence of her daughter, and later of Will’s daughters, was a very compelling part of the story for me. It felt very true that these people were at the forefront of how their parents maneuvered through life. It is unclear whether Will is pining for his ex, or just for a life in which he lived with his daughters.
What is somewhat generic in the subject matter is made very real and watchable by the charming and idiosyncratic performances in “People Places Things.” Suspense is not a strong element, perhaps, but affection is, and the world of little girls practicing huge cellos, and people who are passionate about pen and ink drawings, is certainly a nice world to inhabit for a while.
Currently available to rent on Hoopla, the free digital checkout service from the Mobile Public Library and elsewhere. Register at www.mplonline.org.