Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
“People Places Things” treats its characters a lot messier than most romantic comedies, which makes it delightful at times. It also makes it disappointing when the film falls into the same traps that plague romantic comedies. Its rambling nature hints this will be a leisurely stroll through the life of sad-sack cartoonist dad Will Henry ("Flight of the Conchords"’ Jermaine Clement), but at some point leisurely becomes lazy. Writer-director James C. Strouse builds a lot up a lot of goodwill, even when his characters are intolerable, because he stays rooted in a recognizable, relatable reality. All that goodwill gets squandered with one of the limpest climaxes and endings I’ve seen in years.
Will Henry teaches a graphic novel class at the local university. During a birthday party for his 5-year-old twin girls, Will walks in on his wife cheating on him. This scene, which opens the film, is impressive in how it manages to juggle numerous types of humor. There’s the awkward embarrassment comedy between Will and his wife’s kept man, Gary (Michael Chemus); whose lack of shirt on his heavy-set frame seems to bother Will more than the affair. There’s the slapstick of the ensuing wrestling match between the two men, both of whom are too polite to put much effort into it. And there’s the broad comedy of the kids walking in on this scene which, if you recall, is unfolding in a house full of 5-year-olds.
Fast-forward a year, and Will’s ex-wife Charlie (Stephanie Allynne) is living with Gary and sharing custody of the twins Clio and Collete (Aundrea and Gia Gadsby, respectively). Her relationship with Will is friendly, though his sarcastic comments about many of the things she says and does hint that his issues with her are unresolved. After one of his classes, Will gets the chance to be dragged back into the dating world when his student Kat (Jessica Williams) invites him to dinner. Citing the age difference, Will respectfully declines, a response made even more awkward when he discovers Kat is trying to hook Will up with her mother. “Eww,” says Kat at the thought of dating her teacher. “That’s disgusting!” Will alternates between agreeing with her and meekly admitting he’s not that bad looking.
Kat’s Mom, Diane (Regina Hall) is also a teacher, though her subject is literature and her place of employment is the prestigious Columbia University. Will writes graphic novels and teaches at School of the Visual Arts, both of which draw Diane’s snooty scorn at her dinner table. After the totally botched date, Diane buys a few books from Will’s discipline and discovers their literary qualities. Of course, this leads to a tentative romance between the two.