Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Feelings, responsibility and autonomy compete for attention in James C. Strouse's grown-up rom-com, PEOPLE PLACES THINGS

If at first this new rom-com-dramedy seems like the usual bill of fare -- man catches wife in flagrante delicto with another man -- just give the film a few extra minutes. That should be all it takes to allow the cast and especially the film's main character (that befuddled hubby played by the extremely versatile Jemaine Clement, shown on poster, left, and below throughout) to win you over. PEOPLE PLACES  THINGS proves the best of the three movies written and directed by James C. Strouse (the other two are Grace is Gone and The Winning Season) because it keeps character more important than situation,  thus allowing that situation to avoid much of the supposed feel-good necessities that so many other rom-coms embrace.

Filmmaker Strouse (shown at right) has here fashioned a film about a number of different and interesting subjects -- from working as a comic book artist/teacher and marital infidelity to middle-aged dating and joint parenting -- and he juggles them quite well. Further, he has devised a set of fine supporting characters, each one of whom allows us to view his main character, Clement's Will Henry, in a different and increasingly expansive light.

These include his student Kat (a sassy and winning Jessica Williams, above) and her mom (given a nice blend of sophistication, sex appeal and vulnerability by Regina Hall, shown below, left, with Mr. Clement.)

Also on hand are Will's two daughters, below, played by twins Aundrea and Gia Gadsby with the kind of wise-beyond-their-years affectation that here manages to charm rather than annoy us.

Especially well-drawn and well-acted is the character of the girls' mom, played with a alternately funny and annoying combination of befuddle-ment/entitlement/confusion/anger by Stephanie Allynne, below, left.

Strouse's one big slip-up -- for me, at least -- concerns his belief that a professor of American literature who teaches at New York's Columbia University would have had over her life and career no connection to or appreciation of comic books and graphic novels. This rather beggars belief, but I would not let it stop you from viewing and appreciating what's so very good in this film -- which handles growing up, facing stuff and finally moving on about as well as I have seen in some time.

Oh, yes -- and the animation, the art for which our hero is noted, is expert, as well, including Will's explanation to his class about why what's between those comic book frames of art (and the connection that viewers make in their mind) is sometimes as important as the art itself.

From The Film Arcade and Alchemy, the movie hits DVD, VOD and early EST this coming Tuesday, October 6 -- for purchase or rental.

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