There are some films out there that are both powerful and moving to watch, yet the sheer emotiveness of them makes them difficult to ever watch again. ‘Other People’, directed by Chris Kelly, is certainly one of them – a truly amazing film, and yet I doubt I’d be able to watch it again.
David, played by Jesse Plemons (aka Meth Damon if you’ve watched ‘Breaking Bad’) is a struggling comedy writer who has just split up with his boyfriend of 5 years, Paul (Zach Woods). He’s come back to his hometown, Sacramento, so that he can look after his mother who has a rare form of cancer. Being back in the household is difficult – his sisters are taking it all quite badly, his Dad, Norman (Bradley Whitford) still won’t acknowledge his sexuality, and to top it all off his Mum, Joanne, (played by Molly Shannon) isn’t responding to the chemo anymore. David typically finds bad experiences stressful anyway, and so he finds himself really struggling with everything that’s going on.
Everything in the film is acted well, from Whitford as the bitter and homophobic father who won’t even go inside David’s and Paul’s apartment, to relative newcomer J. J. Totah as the outrageously camp teenager Justin who gives both a hilarious yet disturbing dance performance for his own Dad’s 60th birthday. The true standout performances are both Plemons and Shannon though – Plemons gets the awkwardness of David across perfectly, and Shannon is so convincing as Joanne you almost believe the cancer is real. There are some deeply harrowing scenes portraying the whole process of cancer (such as a particularly distressing part where the kids look on as Joanne screams at her husband to make the therapy stop), and they’re difficult to watch.
It’s not just about cancer though – the film also explores homophobia, depression, and recurrent rejection. None of these are explored in a particularly subtle way, but it’s the graphicness and the intimacy that really makes the film. It’s strong, and you feel like you’re there living the heartache with the whole family. Over time we get to know the family so well that when the heartbreak finally comes it’s absolutely crushing, even though we’ve already seen it happen at the start.
It’s not all doom and gloom though – there are actually some great snapshots of humour throughout, and it helps to mix it up a bit. Yes, they often descend back into morbidity (the line between comedy and sadness is a rather blurred one here), but each funny line, however small, has a purpose and is there to make you think.
The subject matter is a very brave one, and there are some really interesting themes explored. I imagine this was a difficult one to film, but it makes it all the more impressive. ‘Other People’ is so personal and intimate that it’s more of an experience than entertainment – you’ll likely find it hard to watch whether the topic is close to home or not, but it’s one of those films that just needs to be seen.
Other People at CeX
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