Sacramento’s drearily uniform suburbs and strip malls are the backdrop for uneasy tragicomedy in Other People, a Sundance alum that situates itself in the ho-hum middle ground between uproarious and heartbreaking.
Returning to his West Coast home to care for his terminally ill mother, Joanne (Molly Shannon), TV writer David (Jesse Plemons) finds himself also struggling to cope with his flailing career (his shows repeatedly don’t get picked up), a father (Bradley Whitford) who won’t acknowledge or accept his homosexuality, and his recent breakup with NYC boyfriend Paul (Silicon Valley‘s Zach Woods).
Based in part on writer-director Chris Kelly’s own life, the film is bolstered by Plemons’s excellent performance as a man trying to define himself amid incessant turmoil — peaking with a fed-up freak-out at a grocery store while searching for laxatives — and Shannon’s moving turn as a strong-willed woman reduced by disease. Despite a strong sense of its characters, however, Kelly rarely generates much melodramatic or amusing momentum.
Consequently, Other People comes across as merely pleasant, the exceptions being two over-the-top sequences involving Justin (J.J. Totah) — the flamboyant young brother of David’s longtime friend, who puts on a showstopping drag routine for his father’s birthday celebration — and the astute recognition that true hell is soft-rock band Train’s “Drops of Jupiter.”
Written and directed by Chris Kelly
Opens September 9