In a summer filled with cinematic bombast and overkill, it’s always a nice surprise to find a charming little comedy with heart like “People Places Things.”
Directed by James Strouse, the film stars the reliably droll Jemaine Clement as Will, a seemingly happy father of young twins living with his mate Charlie (Stephanie Allyne) in a Brooklyn brownstone. That happy existence is shattered when he catches his wife in a compromising position with another man at their daughters’ birthday party.
We rejoin the action a year later. Charlie is now living with that other guy, Gary (Michael Chernus), a reticent performance artist, in the Brooklyn brownstone. Will, however, lives alone in Queens; he’s a graphic novelist who teaches the form at the New School. He only gets to spend time with his daughters on weekends, which he finds unsatisfying.
He complains about that to Charlie, who gives him unexpected primary custody while she figures out her life. Which throws the shambling, routine-bound Will’s existence into something of a tizzy.
He’s also navigating the dating world for the first time in a while, because one of his students (Jessica Williams from “The Daily Show”) decides to fix him up with her divorced mother Diane (Regina Hall).
The plot is almost beside the point; this story is a slice of life in which one man, with a semi-stiff Kiwi upper lip, deals with unexpected obstacles in his day-to-day existence. He figures them out through his art, but even finding cartoon metaphors for separation can’t relieve his emotional confusion.
In that sense, Strouse’s film offers insight into the plight of the polite. Will obviously seethes inwardly, even as he deadpans his way through painful encounters with Charlie and the unexpected ease of his connection with Diane. He’s so well-mannered that, even during his angriest encounter with the mild-mannered Gary, he is compelled to say, “I think I’m going to fight you now.”
Clement may be one of the slyest actors working, blending great comic timing with a thoughtful, almost melancholy quality. Allyne is like a cross between Judy Greer and Joan Cusack, with a bubbly, obtuse quality. And Aundrea and Gia Gadsby, as the little girls, are naturally charming.
“People Places Things” is one of the summer’s sweet delights. Don’t let it get lost in the shuffle.