by Hiko Mitsuzuka @TheFirstEcho
Much like John Krasinski's current family weepie The Hollars, writer-director Chris Kelly's semi-autobiographical dramedy, Other People, studies the familial relationships surrounding an ailing matriarch. However, unlike that John Krasinski tearjerker coming out later this month, this mother-son saga is full of more sharply observed moments as well as a sharper wit that helps the drama (and comedic bits) feel less forced or manufactured.
A wonderful Jesse Plemons (Breaking Bad, Fargo) stars as David, a comedy writer trying to make it in Manhattan who winds up spending the better part of a year staying home to take care of his cancer-stricken mom (Molly Shannon in an eye-opening, career-defining role). The film is mainly a chronicle from David's perspective, broken into monthly chapters, subtly observing how he deals with the illness that is gradually consuming his unconditionally loving mother. Meanwhile, he's also struggling with a stalled career and a broken yet compassionate relationship with his boyfriend (Hello, Silicon Valley's Zach Woods).
The film also takes on an episodic look at the relationships David left behind in his hometown of Sacramento: with his younger sisters (Madisen Beaty and Maude Apatow), his grandparents (June Squibb and Paul Dooley), his tough-to-crack father (Bradley Whitford), and a high school pal named Gabe (John Early), a distracting confidant who can relate to David's strife.
Bonus: keep an eye out for J.J. Totah's showstopping performance as Gabe's highly theatrical little brother Justin.
Other People delivers well on the laughs, certainly on the tears (the brilliant opening scene swiftly sets the stage with a poignant family moment interrupted by an answering machine message).
It's also an impressive calling card for Chris Kelly, an SNL writer who also has ties to Comedy Central's Broad City and Funny or Die. His feature-length directorial debut is a confident one. No wonder it wowed audiences at both Sundance earlier this year and Outfest earlier this summer, particularly for the out-of-left-field performances from Plemons and Shannon -- these two shine.
And so does the movie.
(Opens September 9 in theaters and on VOD.)