Sundance London 2016 Review : Other People (2016)

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Other People
Chris Kelly writes and directs Other People, a well-intentioned dramedy starring Jesse Plemons, Molly Shannon and Bradley Whitford. Kelly’s feature undeniably touches an emotional nerve through Shannon’s well-pitched performance, yet tonal inconsistencies and a struggle to find an individual voice means that Other People is a somewhat forgettable affair – albeit a pleasant one.

Recently broken up from his partner, David (Plemons), a struggling comedy writer returns home to support his mother’s (Shannon) battle with cancer. He is reminded of the attitudes of his conservative father (Whitford) and the trappings of small-town life.

Kelly’s narrative strikes a balance between heavy emotion and amusingly crude R-Rated humour – a mix that manages to touch and invoke laughs in near equal parts, even if it does give Other People a somewhat unnatural, off-kilter tone. A handful of indie tropes – the struggling insular New York comic/write, the small town past, tempestuous family relationships – all wreak of indie conventionality. It is subsequently harder to be moved or touched in any way by Kelly’s feature on anything more than a purely superficial and non-lasting level.

Within this narrative crafted by Kelly, particularly in its exploration of the familial effects of the cancer battle, the cast have the chance to deliver performances ripe with both dramatic and comic potential. Plemons is an engaging lead and carries the weight of Other People’s narrative with as much conviction as he can. The tenuous relationship with his father, the heartbreak of seeing his mother ill and the crumbling of his romantic life provide Plemons with plenty of moments to showcase some dramatic range – despite the victim-centric conventionality of these scenarios.

Of course, Kelly being a veteran of shows like SNL and Broad City is well aware of what gets a laugh and there are a fair few to be found throughout Other People. David’s best friend’s fabulous little brother (J.J. Totah) is a highlight as a child with boundless confidence and a penchant for putting on a drag number. There is plenty of humour to be found in the cast of comedy veterans assembled here from Retta, John Early, Kerri Kenney, Paul Dooley and Veep’s Matt Walsh – as well as an incredibly amusing turn from the lovable June Squibb. Bradley Whitford is impressive in the ‘straight part’ of David’s father struggling to come to terms with his son’s sexuality, however, Other People belongs to Shannon. Through Kelly’s decision to structure the narrative by months, chronicling the ups and downs Joanne experiences through her battle, it allows Shannon to pack the role with an impressive range from broken-down lethargy to the highs of stopping chemotherapy.

Other People is a tonally mixed palette that does not always gel, despite some sublime performance. The moments of R-Rated humour and dramatic heaviness amuse and touch occasionally, but as a whole Other People feels constrained by its indie tropes.

[rating=3] | Andrew McArthur

Drama | USA, 2016 | Sundance London 2016 | 15 | 3rd June 2016 (UK) | Dir.Chris Kelly | Bradley Whitford, Jesse Plemons, Zach Woods, June Squibb, Maude Apatow, Molly Shannon, J.J Totah