First-time director Chris Kelly‘s sensitive and thoughtful “Other People” is one of the year’s most joyous surprises. Smart, subtle, and utterly heart-wrenching, Kelly constructs an exceptional dramedy that touches all the senses. Boasting two sensational performances from stars Jesse Plemons and Molly Shannon, it’s one of the best independent features to hit screens this year.
“Other People” tells the story of David (Plemons), a struggling comedy writer who returns home to Sacramento to care for his dying mother (Shannon). Fresh off a breakup, he struggles to find his place with his family, especially his father (Bradley Whitford), following his “coming out” 10 years prior.
The film truly opens up when we are knee-deep in the dynamic of David and his family. Plemons owns his role, delivering his strongest work yet. He leads the story with an assurance and sensitive undertone. Magnifying David’s insecurities and vulnerability, Plemons rides the line between reserved and zealous with utter confidence.
The real star of the film, though, is “Saturday Night Live” alumni Molly Shannon. The movie ultimately just belongs to her. She illuminates the life of an everyday woman, fragile and understated. She meticulously portrays the soul, densely textured but so sensationally complex. It’s the single best work she’s ever done, and one that leaves her mark on the history of cinema forever.
“Other People” demonstrates the power of simplicity. The way that Kelly elevates the nature of the ordinary is extraordinary. It’s a heart-wrenching drama, more than about a mother dying of cancer, or a man coming to terms with his family and his sexuality. It crafts an impeccable technique, unobstrusive and captivating. Kelly weaves the sensitivity into our hearts and souls. And although it’s shamefully manipulative, it’s nonetheless inspired. It echoes back to tearjerkers like “Terms of Endearment,” with honesty and appeal.
The rest of the cast contributes soundly. Whitford shows more evidence that he’s in desperate need of more roles. We should probably get on that pronto, Hollywood. Zach Woods as the sassy, yet charismatic ex shines, while Oscar nominee June Squibb plays another sweet and very likable grandmother.
The cynics may not get on board with “Other People,” as it surely offers little surprises in a very conventional, straightforward tale of love, loss and forgiveness. Astounding performances will hold and carry you through, but perhaps if you allow it, the film will offer you something more. One should be so lucky.
“Other People” is currently in theaters and is distributed by Vertical Entertainment.