First film at Sundance complete, and what a film it was! OTHER PEOPLE, written and directed by first-timer Chris Kelly received a standing ovation from the opening night crowd. And that’s no surprise; this film was the perfect balance of humor, sentimentality, and emotion. I laughed, I cried, I cheered, and at the end of the film, I stood up with the rest of the crowd. But the real question is – will I be able to get “Drops of Jupiter” out of my head for the rest of the Festival?
It’s obvious that OTHER PEOPLE is a deeply personal film for Chris Kelly; he said as much in the Q&A following the screening. And that is why I think it played so well for the audience. Based on his own life, the story follows David (Jesse Plemons) a struggling television writer who moves back home to help his family after his mother Joanne (Molly Shannon) is diagnosed with cancer.
As David transitions back to life in Sacramento, he has to come to terms with the fact that he does not have much time left with his mother, his main support system. And since she was the glue holding the family together, David wonders what will happen after she passes. After all, his dad is hurtful and difficult, refusing to accept the fact that David is gay. Will the family dissolve once their backbone is gone?
Despite that plot summary, please don’t think this movie is a cancer drama. It’s a disservice to the film to put it in such a specific category. Like I said before, OTHER PEOPLE takes you on an emotional roller coaster in a good way. In one scene you will be crying, in one scene laughing; or if you’re like me, you will feel ALL THE EMOTIONS in every scene. Yes, there were a few points in the movie that dragged, but those were quickly forgotten as the movie transitioned from month to month, good days and bad, through David’s journey.
Before I carry on with this review any more, I would like to say a huge THANK YOU to Chris Kelly for recognizing the genius that is Molly Shannon and giving her an opportunity to once again shine. As a longtime Shannon fangirl, I have been waiting (semi) patiently for Hollywood to give her a role like this – one that will showcase her dramatic and comedic skills. OTHER PEOPLE did all of this and more. So often, we see Shannon stealing scenes in supporting roles, such as in ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL at last year’s Festival. Now it was finally time for her to get a role as big as her talent.
Kelly said after casting her, Shannon reminded him of his mom. I can totally see that. Of course, it’s not because I knew Kelly’s mom, but because the warmth and eventual pain in Shannon’s performance felt so real, so natural. It almost seemed like the role was written with her in mind!
Jesse Plemons, who has starred in the formative TV shows of the past decade (FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, BREAKING BAD, and FARGO) is the emotional center of the entire film. He is magnificent in the role, proving he is one of the best young actors working today and a chameleon. When everyone was filing out of the theater, I heard continuous murmurs of his name, extolling the brilliance in his performance. At the beginning of the film, his performance was more internal, but while the pressures of being home started to wear on his character, Plemons’ raw emotions started to bubble to the surface, showing David constantly teetering between anger and sadness. One scene in particular between Shannon and Plemons, which comes at the end of the film, left me absolutely sobbing. Certainly the writing of OTHER PEOPLE was great, but the performances are what pushed it over the top.
OTHER PEOPLE definitely set the bar for the other films to come. And I know one thing, if this is only the start of my 2016 Sundance experience, God help me.
My Review: A-