Other People full movie review - Fantastically honest slice of life
A comedy writer returns from NYC to his childhood home in Sacramento for an indefinite period, at a time when his Mom is undergoing treatment for cancer and when he has just ended a five-year relationship.
Presented in episodic, "slice-of-life" scenes titled with every month in what is unavoidably a really terrible year for this guy, the story is economically told yet beautifully cohesive.
You might think a story dealing with a parent's serious illness and impending death would necessarily flirt with sentimentality, but writer-director Chris Kelly (whose own experiences are the obvious source material) is so truthful and self-aware that he almost completely manages to avoid every pitfall. Instead, we get an honest picture of the struggle to find or 'feel' meaning in this year spent, with somewhat mixed feelings, in the bosom of a fairly loving but realistic family--living in his childhood bedroom, sleeping in his old twin bed, and struggling with writer's block at his childhood mahogany desk (his greatest heart's desire as a 2nd-grader).
As Kelly's unlikely stand-in, David, Jesse Plemons gives a fantastically honest & fearless performance. (As with Season 2 of the FX series "Fargo," I kept thinking, "Who is this guy?? How does he have the guts to be so exposed?") Plemons does addled, understated angst like nobody else. As his ex, Zach Woods (only familiar to me from "Silicon Valley" and "The Office") is a revelation of sweetness and adorability. (I sort of hope they get back together...)
Many people will find Molly Shannon's performance as the Mom with cancer extremely powerful and brave. Yes, she was very good... skirting the threat of sentimentality and managing to avoid it in almost every scene. The Dad's and sisters' roles are not as prominent, which is probably part of the point. But I wouldn't have minded seeing them beefed up a bit. The conflict between David and his Dad over his sexual orientation might have better served as fodder for another story and another movie. Its presence in this movie sometimes seemed a bit off-topic, needlessly shifting the focus.
In a sort-of-gratuitous but very enjoyable role, J.J. Totah appears as a campy tween drag queen, the adopted younger brother of an old high school friend. At the Busan film festival screening full of Koreans that I attended, he was a clear audience favorite.
Sacramento is depicted as a provincial no-man's land, and the scene in a local gay bar was definitely non-PC. It might bother some viewers, but illustrates the writer-director's commitment to total honesty, even at the cost of losing a little respect from adherents of social justice.
Does David ever find the meaning and connection he is hoping for? I recommend that you see the film and decide for yourself.
8.5 -- possibly 9