Other People (2016)

It's Jesse Plemons's birthday today and as an appreciation, I decided to watch one of his movies. Other People was the only available on Italian Netflix and since I was yet to see it I checked it out.

The film follows David (Jesse Plemons), a young,  gay, struggling comedy writer as he moves back home to Sacramento to do something other people usually do, taking care of his mother, Joanne (Molly Shannon), who is dying from a rare cancer. Over the course of a year, he has to deal with the deterioration of his mother's health, more career setbacks and a strained relationship with his family, especially his father (Bradley Whitford) who has never accepted him being gay.

In his feature debut, Saturday Night Live writer Chris Kelly tells a thoughtful story about life and death, illness, sexuality, and family relationships in a very realistic way without it being overly dramatic. It still has some clich├ęs of the genre, and some of the topics kind of overshadow others —the gay plot had a much bigger emotional impact on me than the cancer plot—, but the story flows well and does a wonderful job at showing how cancer affects people, both victims and their families.

The best aspect of the script is not the story though but the characters. I read someone complaining about David coming off as selfish and self-absorbed because he rarely talks/interacts with others, he's always on his own, and often complains about being stuck in the dull and lifeless city that is Sacramento. Being that sort of person myself, I guess David doesn't talk much and prefers being along because he's insecure and believes other people don't care about him, that he could or could not be there and nobody would even notice. Which is not true, of course, as I've learnt myself not long ago. Also, this is what serves to build his character and eventually deliver a meaningful grown at the end of the film. As for the Sacramento part, I guess he's just disappointed in himself because he's 30 and has accomplished absolutely nothing, he doesn't have a career, he doesn't have a significant other, and him being back home, surrounded by people who didn't need to make it in a big city to be happy and accomplished, makes him bitter. Jesse Plemons, who usually plays edgy supporting characters, has the chance to shine in this and gives a heartfelt, authentic perfomrance and does an astonishing job as portraying David's frustration, loneliness and insecurities.

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The other major character in Other People is David's mother, Joanne. She is a lively, witty woman who is trying to hold onto her dignity and optimism during her battle with cancer. The character is not as developed as David but Molly Shannon gives with a subtle and powerful performance as she shows so much vulnerability and boldness —she does well in the comedic moments, but it's in the dramatic ones that she truly shines here. Also, the chemistry she has with Plemons is wonderful. Bradley Whitford too does a good job as David's father, a man that does not deserve our sympathy and yet, because of Whitford's performance, we cannot hate him as his kindness really shows through.

Ultimately, while it has some problems —what was even the deal with Train's Drops of Jupiter? I mean, it plays several times throughout the film but it's not clear how the song relates to any of the characters. Also, the kid dancing inappropriately was so Little Miss Sunshine —, Other People still is an effective film that touches many topics, especially cancer, without being emotionally manipulative, and that alternates pretty well moments of wry humour to serious, sad ones.

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