STREAMING REVIEW: Clement Shines In ‘People Places Things’

Since his breakout role in musical/comedy duo “Flight of the Conchords,” New Zealander Jemaine Clement has appeared in HBO’s latest “Divorce.” He’s appeared in “The BFG,” “Men in Black 3” and “Inside Amy Schumer.” He’s got character and comedic parts down, but in “People Places Things,” Clement takes the lead as Will Henry, a graphic novelist learning to navigate the life of an artist, a man, and a co-parent of twin daughters.

And Will’s a good father. He makes his kids Clio and Colette (Aundrea and Gia Gadsby) homemade kites and a cake. He joins them on their dining table play set to celebrate their birthday. He tells some white lies to his ex Charlie (Stephanie Allynne) to get more time with the girls — he has some growing up to do.

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“I’ve been getting over a big breakup,” Will says, and that shows in his classroom. He writes “Why does life suck” on the whiteboard and launches into a classroom discussion with his college students.

“Life sucks because my ex left me for an Off-Broadway monologist who knocked her up and now asked her to marry him,” he says. After a mini-deadpan vent, Will excuses the class, and his student Kat (Jessica Williams) invites Will to her house — to meet her mom.

Jemaine Clement in "People Places Things."
Jemaine Clement in “People Places Things.”

This same scene in a drama or in a dramedy would feel tragic, but in “People Places Things” and through Clement, it’s light and charming — good-natured laughter is inevitable. 

Will’s growing pains are endearing and relatable for any phase of life. He misses his alarm, and his kids are late for school. Before entering their classroom, Will stops to give his kids a look-over. They have milk mustaches, their hair isn’t combed, and “You look wonderful,” he says, oozing with adoration. And “People Places Things” charts Will’s maturation from heartbreak to autonomy. 

Always a backdrop in this film is Will’s graphic novel. Writer/director James C. Strouse often scans Will’s art pieces, offering an insight into Will’s emotional state. Art as a medium, art represented in life and the function of storytelling are all illuminated in “People Places Things.” The scenes in Will’s classroom and his comic images offer some much-welcome and inspiring food for thought.

Stephanie Allynne and Jemaine Clement in "People Places and Things."

Stephanie Allynne and Jemaine Clement in “People Places and Things.”

Clement as Will is so subtly charming. A twist of his lip or eyebrow, a delicate change in his tone, and the emotion is potently communicated. It’s a wonder to see him balance painful emotion and levity. The women in Will’s life: Regina Hall as Kat’s mom, Diane; Kat (Williams); and Charlie (Allynne) are equally potent and real. Director Strouse has a short list of feature films under his belt, but this viewer would watch anything he does.

“People Places Things” is quirky and delightful, packaging difficult circumstances, and its message: with humility and laughter, it’ll all be OK. This one’s worth a watch.

Grade: B+

“People Places Things”

Starring: Jemaine Clement, Regina Hall, Jessica Williams

Writer/director: James C. Strouse

Time: 1:25

Rating: R for language including some sexual references, and brief nudity

Available: Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes, Netflix Instant

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