When last seen on American screens, Jemaine Clement was gleefully ripping into flesh as a Kiwi vampire in What We Do in the Shadows. That character’s razor-sharp incisors would have come in handy for his new role as a heartbroken comic-book artist and single dad in James C. Strouse’s comedy drama People Places Things who is too accommodating by half in accepting whatever fate (or his ex-wife) throws at him. This is a guy who could use a little bite.
But destiny isn’t done with Clement’s Will Henry yet. A year after his marriage to Charlie (Stephanie Allynne) imploded on their twin daughters’ fifth birthday, she’s moved on, ensconced with her portly monologist lover Gary (Michael Chernus) and finding herself through improv classes. But Will is spinning his wheels, still mourning the loss of his settled family life; working as a teacher as well as an artist; stuck in a crappy apartment in Astoria, Queens; perpetually short on funds; and missing daily contact with his little girls. One of his students, Kat (Jessica Williams), identifying his loneliness, sets him up on a date with her mother, Columbia American lit professor Diane (Regina Hall), an awkward evening to add to his sense of futility.
Strouse previously made the John Cusack vehicle Grace is Gone, a road movie that similarly dealt with a husband and father of daughters shocked to find himself suddenly a single dad. People Places Things is a lighter affair, buoyed by Will’s basic decency and the sense of humor that never quite deserts him even at the worst of times. Clement delivers a warm, affable performance as the beleaguered Will, and he receives great support from Williams, Hall, and the adorable kids playing his daughters, Gia and Aundrea Gadsby. Composer Mark Orton’s (Nebraska) score adds one layer of whimsy, while cartoon panels that reflect Will’s predicament adds another. People Places Things is a small film, but it’s one with immense heart.—Pam Grady