Instead of the clinical detachment implied by the title Those People, writer-director Joey Kuhn bathes his first feature in warm compassion.
One of his main characters, Sebastian (Jason Ralph), is the son of a Bernie Madoff–like financial swindler, but Kuhn sees beyond easy demonization and into the neediness and self-loathing that his best friend, up-and-coming artist Charlie (Jonathan Gordon), tries to help him overcome. Charlie, though, also has long-unspoken romantic feelings toward Sebastian, which complicates his budding romance with Lebanese pianist Tim (Haaz Sleiman), as Charlie isn’t able to fully open his heart to new love until he resolves that complex unrequited one.
It’s an old-fashioned romantic triangle, in other words, and cinematographer Leonardo D’Antoni adds to the retro feel by giving much of the film a Gordon Willis–like burnished look. Ultimately, though, it’s Kuhn’s humane vision that impresses most in his debut. In Kuhn’s world, even Sebastian’s disgraced father, Dick (Daniel Gerroll), is allowed a sliver of empathy, showing genuine concern for his son even as he remains unrepentant about his crimes.
First-film jitters — dialogue that too stridently articulates themes and emotions — matter less in the end than the movie’s tenderly romantic feeling, encapsulated most of all in Gordon’s boyish face and enthusiastically eager manner as his character comes of age before our eyes.
Written and directed by Joey Kuhn
Opens May 6, Cinema Village