Other People (2016) / Drama-Comedy

MPAA Rated: Not rated, but would definitely be rated R for sexuality, nudity, drug content, and language
Running Time: 97 min.

Cast: Jesse Plemons, Molly Shannon, Bradley Whitford, Paul Dooley, June Squibb, Maude Apatow, Madisen Beaty, Zach Woods, J.J. Totah
Director: Chris Kelly
Screenplay: Chris Kelly

Review published September 11, 2016

The title is borne from the phrase that bad things are those things that you usually hear happening to "other people."  The family at the heart of the film Other People are the ones dealing with a very bad thing, cancer.

The film takes place over the course of a year, with the primary focus being on a struggling comedy writer and improv comedian named David (Plemons, Bridge of Spies), returning to his hometown of Sacramento from New York to look after the needs of his terminally ill mother, Joanne (Shannon, Hotel Transylvania 2), uncomfortably reuniting with his mostly estranged father, Norman (Whitford, I Saw the Light), who has yet to fully accept him since coming out, and two mostly annoying younger sisters.  The family is preparing for the inevitable life after Joanne, as she has decided to forego additional grueling chemo treatments and accept her fate with the cancer that is overtaking her.  While there, David also begins to find some healing time with dormant familial relationships and a bit of perspective on the other trials and tribulations in his personal, professional and romantic life.

Astutely written and directed by former "SNL" and "Onion News Network" writer Chris Kelly, basing much of the film on his own personal experiences with his own ailing mother, taking an intimate approach to his characters that fleshes out the tragedy, but also the absurdity, of their situation for both tears and laughs, often simultaneously.  Kelly imbues all of his characters, even small supporting ones, with a humanity, vulnerability, and level of character detail that is rare in modern-day dramedies.  While Kelly would rather see the darker humor in the situation rather than go for maudlin tearjerker, you'll still find yourself misty-eyed even amid some of the bittersweet chuckles, as we come to know and understand the characters as they suffer through the difficulties of caring for an ailing but beloved member of their family.

No doubt most of the praise for Other People will go to its two main performers, Jesse Plemons, who fully inhabits his role of a troubled, anguished and misunderstood (even to himself) man coming to grips with what is important in life as he nears the age of 30, and Molly Shannon, not long after appearing in another excellent dramedy dealing with terminal disease, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, shows much more range than just kooky comic caricatures in a mostly dramatic performance that makes her Joanne a wholly sympathetic figure that had been the only glue to this mostly dysfunctional family that loves her.  The anguish felt by David during this time is his sense of wanting his mother to know that everything is going to be alright for him in life, causing him to tell a few untruths that he hopes can become truths before the time of her passing.

It should be noted that while the marketing of the film emphasizes it as a comedy, this is definitely a film that takes its subject matter quite seriously underneath some of the humor.  There are hilarious moments to be sure, yet the film also deal with the emotional gut-punch of the disease head on.  People dealing with their own difficulties with deaths and disease in their own families will likely find the mix of humor, pathos, and raw truthfulness within Other People to be therapeutic.  It's a cathartic notion to know that other people are dealing with the same difficulties that many of us have to contend with, and can survive even among some of the most heartbreaking moments in life.

Qwipster's rating:

2016 Vince Leo