MOVIE REVIEW: ‘People, Places, Things’ Is An Absolute Must-See

Film: People, Places, Things
Starring: Jermaine Clement, Regina Hall
Directed by: Jim Strouse

The older you get the more you realize there is never an ideal time to figure out who you are, why you’re here, or what it is you’re supposed to be doing with the increasingly limited amount of life you have left. The best you can do is to try and find what makes you happy while doing all the stuff that gets in the way of doing what you really want, even if you don’t know what it is you really want to do. This is the point of People, Places, Things, the latest film from writer/director Jim Strouse, and it’s conveyed through a tale of life and love you won’t soon forget.

Will Henry (Jermaine Clement) is a graphic novelist and a professor in New York City who, on the day of his twin daughters’ fifth birthday, caught his wife cheating on him with an overweight monologist in the home they shared. The betrayal came as a complete shock to Will, and now that his daughters are about to turn six he’s beginning to realize he has spent almost an entire year paralyzed by the fear he has no idea who he is or what he’s supposed to be doing with his life. All that ever mattered to him was his family, and as more time passes he feels the distance between himself and those he loves the most continuing to grow. It doesn’t help that his ex is now engaged to the monologist, or that he hasn’t had a date since the divorce, but Will’s biggest problem is himself. He is his own worst enemy, and his battle to come to terms with that fact is what makes People, Places, Things so special.

Just as Will is losing hope, he finds a distraction of sorts in a curious and talented young student named Kat (Jessica Williams). You may be expecting another melodramatic comedy about a middle-aged man finding love and life in someone half his age, which is actually what Will himself expects, but you would be wrong. Kat doesn’t want Will for herself, but for her mother, Diane (Regina Hall), who recently got out of a relationship. She sees the two of them meeting as a chance for both to start fresh, and though will is unsure of risks associated with letting his students pick his dates he challenges himself to make a change and give dinner with Diane a chance. It’s a small step, but an important one, and it serves as the start of a new chapter in Will’s life that we, the audience, have the great pleasure of watching unfold.

A wide variety of twists and turns arise in Will’s life after he accepts Kat’s invitation. Some are tied to his time with her mother, others are not. Strouse uses the introduction of Diane to transition from a story of self-loathing into one of self-discovery, with Will learning to be the man his daughters already believe him to be. Anyone paying attention will be able to find pieces of their own struggles with identity, regardless of whether or not the events on screen mirror their own life. I’m not a parent, nor any good at drawing, but as Will expressed his own frustrations through self-deprecating quips in conversation or comic strips I saw a bit of myself in his likeness. His way of running from the truth was my own, even though I hated to admit it. I could see his struggle and, believe it or not, my own.

Life is not filled with happy endings or endless nightmares, so do not assume the very real world of People, Places, Things will wrap everything up in a pretty little bow. There is a complete narrative to be enjoyed, but there are layers at work that demand further reflection in the hours, days, and weeks after each screening. Jim Strouse has created a simple masterpiece, complete with Jermaine Clement’s best performance to date, and I recommend you experience it as soon as you possibly can.


James Shotwell
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