By Jason Abdow
One of the main reasons people, including myself, go to the movies is so they can escape from their lives for a little bit and jump into someone else’s story. This is certainly true for Chris Kelly’s seemingly autobiographical film, “Other People.“ However, this does not mean this is a story that you would really want to jump into. This is because of the brutally real and heartbreaking story of this film.
The movie chronicles a year in the life of comedy writer David, played by Jesse Plemons, as he moves home to Sacramento as he takes care of his dying mother (Molly Shannon). It is a sensitive subject and right from the opening scene of the film, you know just how difficult the rest of the movie will be to watch. It almost feels as if a camera crew snuck its way into the home of a suffering family a recorded every intimate moment they shared over the course of a year.
Kelly, having a background in comedy, knows not too keep the film on a downward spiral of sadness, and instead sprinkles comedic moments throughout. While this is a tricky balance to maintain, Kelly does it excellently, making all of the comedy relatively dry and most importantly realistic. This light comedy would not work so well if the cast was not so terrific in their roles. Plemons, who has showed his talent in supporting roles over the years, shined here, giving a really nuanced and heartfelt performance. However, the true star here was Molly Shannon as Joanne, David’s dying mother. She used her natural charm and humor to really personalize her character, and really sold all of her incredibly heavy dramatic scenes.
Sadly, when removed from these performances, the movie itself falls short of many other films that deal with similar subjects. It begins to get a little cyclical as the audience is given an intensely sad scene to cry at, then a light scene to laugh at to break the tension, then another sad scene, etc. This formula made the funnier moments much less enjoyable, since it was clear that there would soon be a scene to bring you down.
Despite being just a little over 90 minutes, this movie did begin to drag on, not necessarily because it was boring, but because it was just so hard to watch. There is a little joy to be had with “Other People,” which is somewhat the point. Yet I was still hoping that somewhere along the way Kelly would find a way to inject something to make this feel more cinematic. There were a few aspects that showed this kind of promise, especially towards the end. It is at this point that the message of the film begins to present itself and it is a beautiful one that reveals the importance of family and despite how dark much of the movie is, the ending does come like the light at the end of the tunnel.
Overall, this is a movie that comes from a genuine place in Chris Kelly’s heart, but it often is uncomfortable with its intensely real approach to telling this story. Anyone planning on watching this should be prepared for what is to come and at the end they will be rewarded with a bittersweet response. “Other People” just takes a little too long to get there.