Movie Review: “People Places Things”

clem1The deadpan charms of Kiwi comic Jemaine Clements are the chief recommendation of “People Places Things,” a droll New York romantic comedy that feels like 240 indie rom-coms that preceded it.
Not that it doesn’t have its novelties. OK, novelty. That would be Clement, and his character — Will Henry.
Will’s a failing graphic novelist. OK, as he admits, “comic book” writer-illustrator, thus settling that semantic dodge once and for all.
He walks in on his blame-him-for-everything girlfriend (Stephanie Allynne) having sex at their twin daughters’ fifth birthday party.
“You pushed me into this!”
That inspires Will’s epiphany.
“Happiness is not really a sustainable condition.”
A year later, he’s splitting custody of the kids while the ex plans her future with the unscrupulous lump (Michael Chernus of “Orange is the New Black”) she was in flagrante delicto  with back at the birthday party.
Will is depressed, not that his “How to Create a Graphic Novel” class has a lot of sympathy. They’re scratching their heads over his “Why Does Life Suck So Hard?” on the blackboard, his lack of enthusiasm for…everything.
“I’m OK. Just having a hard life. It’ll all be over…eventually.”
But a student (Jessica Williams of “The Daily Show”) takes pity and tries to fix him up with her mom (Regina Hall of the “Think Like a Man” movies). A big problem? Mom teaches REAL literature at Columbia, a REAL university. She’s not sold on what her daughter wants to do for a living, and what Will dares to compare to the fiction she teaches. That makes for a testy first and possibly last date.
But it’s a romantic comedy, so we know they’ll figure out someway past their failed “meet cute” moments.

clem2If you ever wonder why so many indie romances are set in New York in the summer, “People Places Things” lays it all out for you. Mostly TV actors, in New York, on hiatus between seasons of their shows, people this movie and scads like it. Not that this is a failing, but it’s the easiest sort of movie to sell an actor on making in a short period of time between bread-and-butter jobs.

Writer-director James C. Strouse (“Grace is Gone”) fills in the 85 minutes around that conventional plotline with some clever and informative stuff about visual storytelling in comic book — sorry, “Graphic Novel” — form. Clement pulls off these classroom scenes — the students are a grab bag of comic book nerd cliches, with a few hotties thrown in — and makes us buy into the worthiness of the conventions of comic book writing.
That helps, because Diane (Hall) seems to abandon her closely-held principles about what constitutes “literature” rather abruptly. And it ain’t because the guy is dashing, clever, clean-shaven and rich. Will is none of these.
But he’s a wonderful dad and an empathetic soul, too sensitive for the ex who keeps pushing him around and controlling his future. He gives her way too much credit in the breakup.
“She just stopped talking, and I enjoyed the silent too much.”
Clement, of “Flight of the Conchords” and “Dinner for Schmucks,” dials the daffy down for a performance that is more vulnerable than hilarious. But he holds this slight comedy together — the women in it, from the kids to the paramours, are here to just make him credible — and makes it worth watching.

2half-star6
MPAA Rating: R for language including some sexual references, and brief nudity

Cast: Jemaine Clement, Regina Hall, Stephanie Allynne, Jessica Williams
Credits: Written and directed by James C. Strouse. A Film Arcade release.

Running time: 1:27

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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