Tag Archives: James C. Strouse

People Places Things (2015)

610full-people-places-things-poster

Will Henry (Jemaine Clement) is a socially awkward graphic novelist and a native New Zealander living in New York whose world caves in the day of his twin daughters (Audria and Gia Gadsby)’s fifth birthday parties, when he heads upstairs during the festivities and catches his longtime girlfriend Charlie (Stephanie Allyne) banging her pudgy, affable lover Gary (Michael Chernus)

One year to the day, and Will is still feeling majorly bluesey in the wake of his big break-up. Reluctantly allowed to see his girls on weekends, Will is teaching graphic art at a local college but really doesn’t have his heart in it, preferring instead to immaturely lecture his students on why life, and people in general, totally sucks. Kat (Jessica Williams,) a blunt but good-natured student introduces the lonely Will to her attractive divorcee mother Diane (Regina Hall,) and after a rocky start sparks begin to fly.

However, Will still has feelings for his moody, fickle, and completely exasperating ex, who’s having doubts about her marriage to the girlfriend-stealing Gary, and Will must choose to get over his bitterness and self-doubt and find out how to best serve the interests of not only him, but also his daughters, and ultimately move on.

“People Places Things” is one of those little movies that has completely flown under the radar, and unless, of course, you have a soft spot for the Kiwi funnyman Jemaine Clement, you’re likely to go your whole life without hearing about it. This is a shame, because “People Places Things” is good and true in a way that few American films aspire to be. Will is a very believable character, sometimes delightful, sometimes infuriating, I found myself dubbing him a ‘loser’ over his immaturity and unprofessionalism and at the same time admiring his undeniable love for his kids and his creative spark.

This movie should be called ‘When Nerdy College Professors With Too Much Knowledge and Not Enough People Skills Fall in Love.’ The humor in “People Places Things” is not as much of the ‘laugh-til-you-cry’ variety and more wry, subtle, and oddly relatable, there are no huge happenings in this film and we don’t hold that against it in the least. There is a refreshing lack grand comic misunderstandings in the arguments between Will and his love interest, Diane, they are all messy disagreements that not only very often happen in the real world, they do, every day.

When Will and Diane first have dinner together, Diane callously dismisses graphic novels as an art form. This understandably miffs Will, it is important in a developing relationship for someone to care about the things we’re passionate about, or at least try to understand why we like them. They part on less-than-friendly terms, and the viewer patiently waits for their lives  to converge again, because, hey, maybe these two could have something here. After all, the majority of movie lovers start out on relatively shaky grounds.

The actors do an outstanding job with the material they’re given, and that includes the two child actresses, whose performances are smooth and unforced. They share a genuine comfortableness with Clement, a naturalism that makes us believe they are kin. Jemaine Clement plays a man for whom social skills do not come naturally without the over-the-top ‘geek’ theatrics of popular television programs like The Big Bang Theory and Chuck. He played a similarly awkward protagonist in Eagle Vs. Shark, but his Will is infinitely more relatable and more sympathetic than Eagle…‘s creepy, maladjusted Jarrod.

People Places Things is one of the relatively ‘small’ films that get ignored yearly in favor of bigger, more robust productions. For a bit of wry real-life observational humor, don’t let this charming little comedy pass you by.’

people

The Winning Season (2009)

the winning season

Remember in “Fight Club” when Edward Norton says that when suffering from insomnia, “Everything is a copy of a copy of a copy”? Yeah, this film is kind of like that. It’s a movie shamelessly derivative of a another movie which is derivative of yet another movie. And here comes the bombshell.

I don’t like sports movies. Now you ask, why would someone who doesn’t like sports movies watch a film directly centered around girls’ basketball? Why, Sam Rockwell, of course, who can be charming and likable even in the most mediocre motion picture.

But for many a Sam Rockwell, there’s a Emma Roberts waiting to bungle up the movie. I just don’t like her in anything. To be fair, though, this time the fault isn’t Emma’s. It’s the script, which plays on every ‘inspirational sports movie’ trope known to man, and does it with the shameless belief that it will move you to tears, endear itself to you, and make you write a glowing review totally different from the one I’m writing now.

The plot is utterly familiar even if you know nothing going in– underachieving alcoholic loser and basketball-playing has-been Bill (Sam Rockwell) is working as a dishwasher when his old friend Terry urges him to coach Girls’ Basketball. The foul-mouthed, half-heartedly sexist Bill is convinced that girls playing basketball is a superfluous pastime, but he reluctantly agrees so he can quit his dishwashing job.

Right off the bat you wonder– what makes Terry think that Bill is up for coaching a bunch of high school girls? Why because he couldn’t find anyone else, of course. No one else? But I digress. Bill is a slovenly pig, a miserable knob who eats chicken fingers off of his customer’s plates and, initially at least, fails to show the girls one ounce of respect while coaching.

But you know off the bat (because this is this type of movie) that Bill will tag his ragtag team of losers and make them winners, inspiring the girls, and maybe, learning to face up to his inadequacies in the process. And of course Bill is the deadbeat father of a neglected teenage daughter (Shana Dowdeswell) and a disapproving ex-wife (Jessica Hecht) who has found Mr. Perfect and now takes every opportunity to passive-aggressively make Bill feel like shit.

As Bill gets embroiled in the girls’ individual dramas, he comes to the well-worn revelation that no, these girls don’t have game, but they have heart, and he can really make something out of their team. Even as Bill mans up and becomes a supportive coach, he isn’t really a very likable protagonist. I think it’s because he lacks any kind of substantial depth. Even his character is nothing more than a tired trope.

And does the director of this film think it’s dramatically satisfying to watch the entire basketball team haul the inebriated Bill into his apartment? It’s a fucking disgrace. If you get so drunk while coaching that you have to be carried like a baby by a bunch of 17-year-old girls, well, maybe you shouldn’t be a coach. It was shameful to watch, frankly.

Then we have the ‘big finale’ where Bill breaks into the  stadium where the climactic game is being held in full costume after being laid off and told to stay away from the team. I wonder if it was really worth it to run away from the police in a cape,  a wig, and full body paint as opposed to, y’know, waiting it out and taking the girls out for Shoney’s afterward.

Despite the film’s flaws (and boy, are they many,) most of the girls give charming performances (including Rooney Mara in a pre- Dragon Tattoo role) and Emma Roberts (as the pragmatic Abbie) isn’t as insufferable as usual. Let me put it this way- if you like basketball and cheesy, feel-good movies, you might like this, so don’t cross it off your to-see list yet.  I guess I’m the wrong audience for this movie. All I know is that Sam Rockwell can do better, and has.

winning_season_movie_image_sam_rockwell_emma_roberts_01