People, Places, Times

PEOPLE, PLACES, THINGS,  US, 2015, Colour. Starring Jemaine Clement, Regina Hall, Jessica Williams, Stephanie Allynne, Michael Chernus, Aundrea Gadsby, Gia Gadsby. Directed by James C.Strouse. 85 minutes. Rated M (Coarse language, brief nudity, sexual references)

This is quite a pleasant film to watch, brief, some serious themes, but with the light and comic touch. It is a New York story.

Over the years, New Zealand actor and comic style, Jemaine Clement has made something of an international impact, especially with the television series Flight of the Conchordes. But he has had something of a Hollywood career as well, evil in Men in Black 3, and dastardly comic villain, Chevalier, in Gentleman Bronco. And a sinister voice character in the Rio films. More recently, he was Vladislav, one of the several funny Wellington vampires in their flat in What We Do in the Shadows.

This time he is a rather simple soul, Will, always trying to do his best, an artist, working on cartoon panels as well as a graphic novel. It is his twin daughters’ fifth birthday and, suddenly, he discovers his partner being unfaithful and accusing him of being to blame. He is both flabbergasted and dismayed, not understanding how the relationship could have collapsed, with still loving his partner.

Move forward a year, the twins’ sixth birthday party, a very modest episode compared with the year before. Will has the girls for a party but they are living with their mother and her new partner, a seemingly inoffensive comedian, specialising as a monologist. In the meantime, Will is making very slow progress with his book, sketching rather sad cartoons, with him as a bewildered victim. He also lectures at a college, explaining to his students how cartoons work in terms of storytelling.

One of the students invites him home to meet her mother, a professor of literature at Columbia, and, after some pleasant moments, they begin to argue, she never having read a graphic novel, thinking that they did not belong to literature – and feeling somewhat guilty because she does not approve of her daughter’s study course.

The film shows some of the ups and downs in Will’s life, taking his daughters at weekends, wanting to have more time with them and experiencing a whole lot of tangles in getting them to school on time, finding one day that there is a bomb alarm and relying on his student to babysit them for the day – leading to more complications, and something of a reconciliation between himself and the Columbia professor.

His ex-partner tells him that she is going to marry the monologist. He is rather dismayed, but is still hoping for a reconciliation. But, as so often, he has misread the situation but does go to the wedding ceremony.

Is there hope for Will? Can he once again make contact with the professor? how will he relate to his daughters? There are indications of the end of the film but no answers – it leaves it all up to our own hopes and imaginations.

Nicely watchable.

Madman   Released September 10th

Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

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