Another film rolls out like a potato; this one comes from 2015, and hadn’t registered at all with me until it turned up as a new release on Netflix UK. The draw here is Flight of the Conchords star Jermaine Clement, and the proposition is a lo-fi, simple indie film from writer/director Jim C Strouse. It’s a slight, gentle and likable film that builds up quite a bit of credit before a throw-away ending spoils the deal somewhat, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
Will Henry (Clement) is an Astoria-based comic book artist who has managed to wrangle a decent lecturing job with semi-enthusiastic students. He’s got two little girls that he dotes on, but his skittish partner Charlie (Stephanie Allynne) is bored, and seeks solace in the arms and bed offered by off-off-Broadway monologist Gary (Michael Chernus). Soon, Charlie is attending improv groups while Will takes care of the kids, but Will reaches his limit when he discovers Charlie in bed with Gary. Charlie is all too willing to give Will the responsibility of bringing up the kids, but finding child-minders urgently leads Will into the orbit of student Kat (Jessica Williams) and her mother Diane (Regina Hall).
Hall was great in Support the Girls, and works the same magic here as a Columbia lecturer who seeks to puncture her own literary snobbery by dating Will. Diane has been hurt before, and her side of the story is so strong, it’s a mystery why her character is not seen in the film’s climax, and why the focus is entirely on whether Will can get over Charlie. Clement is also terrific as a put-upon father, but the sketchy way that his partner’s character is developed makes People Places Things something of a damp squib in the final scenes.
2015 seems like a long time ago in 2021; the focus purely on a male character would raise hackles today. It’s frustrating that People Places Things gets so deep into the psyche of its male hero, and yet takes the female characters for granted. Who should Diane take Will back? Wouldn’t Diane want, as a mother, to protect her daughter from seeing how selfish Will can be? The world’s problems shouldn’t be blamed on a cheerful, insubstantial time-passer like this, but the war between men and women has rarely been depicted as one-sidedly as this; on this evidence, women are either obstacles or rewards, but seem to have little agency of their own. The sunny NYC locations and laid-back tone make this an easy watch, but the sweet veneer disguises a bitter pill inside.