People Places Things
People Places Things is the latest white-guy-mid-life-crisis indy movie I’ve stumbled across, but aspects of the setting will be of great interest to my readers. Written and directed by James C. Strouse, the film stars Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) as a graphic novelist teaching a comic course at the School for Visual Arts in New York City.
On his twin daughters’ fifth birthdays, he discovers his wife (Stephanie Allynne) cheating on him. They divorce, and a year later, when most of the movie takes place, he’s trying to figure out how to be a good father and how he really feels about the breakup, particularly as she prepares to remarry. Many of his feelings are expressed through his art for an upcoming graphic novel he’s working on, particularly the metaphor of a couple accidentally building a brick wall between them. Here’s a poster example that shows it.
It’s more difficult than it should be to figure out who’s responsible for the lovely artwork. Jessica Williams (The Daily Show) plays a student in his class who introduces him to her mother (Regina Hall, Think Like a Man), an American literature instructor at Columbia, because they’re “both snobs”. Williams’ character’s work is credited at the end to Lauren R. Weinstein. The other credits read “set dressing artwork by Dash Shaw, Bobby Griffiths, Nick Almendinger”. (Of course, this is near the end of the credits, after the accountants and hair stylists and production assistants.) Yet the film’s Facebook page says “Gray Williams, the artist behind all of the artwork”. For a movie about such a creative process, where the art is symbolic and significant to the film’s core, I think the credits should have been clearer and more prominent. Here’s an example of it:
I found this lack of credit particularly interesting since one small moment involves Hall’s character apologizing to Clement after downplaying the “comic book” he did, as shown in this sequence. (Fans will find this conversation depressingly familiar.)
Later, he finds out she’s been reading Fun Home, and she says:
Comic books are an underappreciated part of American literature…. There’s some really rich, emotionally complex stuff going on there.
There’s also an intriguing sequence in his class, where he uses examples from Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics to illustrate how the reader brings closure to the work, filling in the gaps between panels.
As for the film overall, his ex-wife flirts closely with being too much of a self-obsessed cliche, but I really liked the performances by Williams, Hall, and the six-year-old girls (Aundrea and Gia Gadsby). I wish we’d seen more with Hall and Williams. People Places Things is a quiet comedy with some well-captured observations and characters you want to root for, and it’s available on demand now. Here’s the family-oriented trailer that makes it look a tad more traditional rom-com than it is: