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Other People resists easy melodrama, rewarding viewers with a smart, subtle look at family dynamics with a talented cast and a finely calibrated blend of funny and serious moments.
All Critics (55)
| Top Critics (17)
| Fresh (47)
| Rotten (8)
"Other People" breathes new life into the formulaic, dark comedy about death.
Inherently melodramatic, the film belongs to Ms. Shannon, who vividly etches Joanne in a full end-of-life range: funny, loving, angry, regretful, exhausted, resigned.
Cancer and coming out aren't exactly fresh topics for an indie film, but here they have the authenticity of lived experience, and both Shannon and Plemons are exceptional.
Smart, lovely, funny, occasionally edgy, slightly cynical and ultimately heart-tugging.
Emotions run deep and wide here; anyone who's ever lost a parent, longed for love and acceptance, or tried to find his or her true self should easily relate. It's a terrific film.
Poignancy is a difficult thing to achieve, since it can come off as inauthentic or dumb. "Other People" gets there because David, Norman and Joanne do not want our pity.
The semi-autobiographical script is well-written and economical, simultaneous very funny and so sad that tears will flow.
At once the affair feels deeply personal - writer/director Chris Kelly adapts the story from events in his own life - and yet wildly broad.
Slow, random, self-absorbed dramedy about a character not-quite-making-his-mom's-cancer-about him, but close
Other People is a solid middle-of-the-pack indie cancer dramedy.
Other People [is] a highly affecting Sacramento-set tragi-comedy .
There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, many of which are intermingled with sob-out-loud moments. It helps greatly that first-time director Chris Kelly maintains a low-key, naturalistic vibe throughout.
An alright tale that sees Jesse Plemons take on a more serious role from Friday Night Lights. Molly Shannon is great as well. There just isn't much else there.
Cancer, much like rape, is a very sensitive topic to tackle in films. It's difficult in both dramas and comedies. Its use in drama can lead to some giving in to their worst tendencies. Scenes become manipulative and melodramatic scenes that only exploit an already horrible disease without any actual insight. Comedies have it slightly less hard, but not by much. Where do you find the humor in this awful disease? It's not impossible to achieve, but it is very difficult. I think the best example of using cancer in a dramedy would have to be 50/50, a phenomenal movie. One that finds the humor and insight in cancer to create, really, somewhat of an uplifting film without even trying. Other People, obviously, doesn't come close to that level, but I still believe that it's a damn good movie that finds some insight as to what it is like being a family, whose matriarch's health is slowly deteriorating as a result of the cancer. While the movie is, obviously, about Joanne's cancer and how that affects her family, it's really more like a 'year in the life' of David, Joanne's son, a struggling comedy writer. David deals with his mother's illness and the family dynamics of having a father that doesn't accept his homosexual lifestyle and sisters that David doesn't really spend a lot of time with, even though they're going through exactly the same thing as he is. David deals with the fact that his career isn't going the way he wanted it, he broke up with his boyfriend. So, to avoid worrying his mother, he puts up this act that he's still with his boyfriend and his career is going fine, so she doesn't worry about him on top of having to deal with her health issues. I believe the movie avoids a lot of melodramatic elements simply because Joanne isn't featured in every second of every scene. It deals more with how David tries to cope with the fact that his mother is dying in spite of the fact that, he feels, he's actually losing two parents, since he feels he can't count on his father after Joanne dies. The film very much is about the dynamic of the entire family as they adjust to Joanne's worsening health, I thought that was a better way to tell this story than just focusing on David and Joanne. While I would have liked to have seen more scenes between Joanne and David, the ones that were there were poignant and effective. There's some interesting themes in the film. There's some spiritualism here, not religious, just spiritual. There's this scene where David has a conversation with his best friend, whose mother also died from cancer. David tells his friend that he hasn't gotten religious-y at all since his mother's diagnosis, so he asks his friend if he had that moment when his mother was dealing with her illness. The friend then proceeds to tell him this story about this time his mother told him that after he died, she would inhabit a birch tree. And the friend obviously knew that her mother wasn't actually in the birch tree at all, but every time he saw one, he saw her in it regardless. Just because of something as simple as her telling him that. And it's actually kind of a beautiful story, one that I didn't actually do justice to. I think it works because there's something that we all have that would remind us of the ones we love that may have passed away. And, at its core, this ends up being one of the film's main themes, with David realizing that, as much as he's gonna miss his mother when she's gone, there are a lot of things, and people (his sisters) around him that will always remind him of his mother. It sounds a little sentimental, and it is, but I think it's actually really subtly done in this movie. They don't hammer it home, which is to their credit. The acting is really strong. Jesse Plemons is really talented and Molly Shannon, despite not appearing as much as she could have, does a phenomenal job here. The rest of the cast is strong as well, but those are the two central actors the film centers on. The humor comes naturally and organically from every day situations. It's not a hilarious movie, but I don't think it was ever meant to be hilarious. The comedy gives levity to the more dramatic moments of the film. With that said, this movie isn't perfect, but I thought it was damn good. It doesn't give in to tendencies that would have made the narrative exploitative or insensitive, so that was smart of them to do. I'd recommend it if you have Netflix, though I will say it might put you in a down mood afterwards. It's not a depressing movie or anything of the sort, but it is sad. The ending is bittersweet, but beautiful at the same time.
Jesse Plemons and Molly Shannon are brilliant in this piercingly intimate cancer drama. Instead of coaxing cheap tears from the audience, Other People instead aims to imitate real life and plumb the depths of its central characters through delicate dialogue. The entire cast is stellar and the film is quiet and even funny, however, perhaps could have had a bit more meat on its bones. It doesn't offer much that separates itself from the cancer drama pack, but its natural and affecting and should gain an Oscar nomination for Shannon. Rating: 79
GOOD GOLLY MISS MOLLY - My Review of OTHER PEOPLE (4 Stars)
A pet peeve of mine is when a film opens with our main characters crying. We haven't invested enough in them to care, so it always seems to read as premature. Well, you can throw that out the window, because writer/director Chris Kelly, an SNL writer making his feature debut with the wonderful, emotionally powerful OTHER PEOPLE, has proven me wrong right there in his opening scene. Trust me, this won't spoil anything to tell you that a grieving family sobs over the body of their beloved Joanne (Molly Shannon), who just passed away from cancer. The moment is handled with such delicacy, that it's impossible to not feel the heartbreak.
And then, perhaps as an homage to James L. Brooks, Kelly undercuts the moment by way of an ill-timed voicemail guaranteed to make you laugh out loud. It's clever and a tad sitcom-esque, but it sets the stage for the most vividly personal disease movie since TERMS OF ENDEARMENT, which won the Best Picture Oscar way back in 1983. In fact, its episodic nature, connected performances, and astute blend of humor and despair make the comparisons quite apt.
Clearly an autobiographical film, Kelly introduces us to our protagonist, David (Jesse Plemons of FARGO, BREAKING BAD and FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS - Jesus! This guy is great in great TV shows, isn't he?!!). David is an out-of-work SNL writer who returns to Sacramento to tend to his dying mother. After its opening scene, the film backpedals and takes us through a year's worth of David's caregiving. Gay and recently separated from his boyfriend (a wonderful Zach Woods), David carries his own emotional baggage despite having a singular relationship with his mother. Their interactions early on feel so smart and lived-in, with Plemons mastering his stunted yet bright character while Shannon goes full throttle in showing us a woman with no f*cks left to give.
Plemons isn't often given the opportunity to play this level of intelligence, and it's a refreshing change of pace for an actor who has built his young career with characters who tend toward the doltish. Here, he dares to be prickly and somewhat impenetrable, which serves as a great counterpoint to Shannon's force of nature portrayal. Clearly their work is Oscar caliber, and while Shannon nails every grueling moment of her illness, Plemons' work may unfairly get overlooked. One performance would not work without the other, and both actors deserve the highest praise. One scene in particular brought me to tears as Shannon, barely able to speak, puts on a brave face for her former colleagues. This is the movie that will change how you perceive this blazingly spectacular actress.
In addition to the two great leads, this cast delivers great moments in scene after scene. A child actor named J.J. Total takes over the movie at its midpoint for an astonishing living room drag performance, a scene that will most likely join the pantheon of great young actor moments. Many have criticized this moment as being superfluous, but I found it to be an essential moment in David's own evolution as a character who needed to take more risks. Also great is John Early as Gabe, one of David's gay hometown friends. It could so easily have been a stock supporting role, the kind that exist to merely prop up our lead characters, but Early makes him pop. Bradley Whitford does a great job as David's homophobic father, a difficult role that may stretch credibility at times, but one in which Whitford invests fully nonetheless.
None of this would be as indelible as it is without Kelly's carefully constructed script. There are so many setups and payoffs that worked deliciously, giving us that beautiful "aha" I love so much in movies of this caliber. The repetitive use of this device could have grown old, and I must confess I saw the final image coming from a mile away, but for a film about life and death, it felt comforting to know I could rely on these signposts. OTHER PEOPLE is the type of film we rarely get to see anymore. It rarely settles for easy sentiments, preferring instead to show us the truly difficult moments and choices made. It's easily one of my favorite movies of the year.
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