In August of 2007, Superbad hit theaters and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I had graduated from high school three months earlier and though I’d never sat in a ride along with infantile po-po, or forced to sing karaoke to a room full of coke heads, the theme of life’s defining crossroads and their inevitable effect on friendship struck a nerve. Underneath the playful sheen of a raunchy teen comedy, Superbad spoke to the challenges of an unknowable future and the tectonic shifts that crackle in the multitudinous friendships you’ve curated over the years. A few days after Superbad, I left for college. Read More
*This is a reprint of our 2015 Sundance review.
Having retired from his role as the Hiphopopotamus, Jemaine Clement frequents our living rooms and theaters all too infrequently. His 2014 cameo in Muppets Most Wanted didn’t nearly suffice to fill our favorite Kiwi quotient and we’ve yet to take in his lauded vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows [Editor’s note: we’ve now seen Shadows. We loved it.] Nor can we really kid ourselves into believing that Clement’s existence beyond Flight of the Concords has been far-reaching – though his role as Boris the Animal was an easy highlight of Men in Black 3 and tapped into his unrealized Hollywood potential. So it’s with a heaving sigh of relief that we can announce that Clement has finally been given a role worthy of his gawky stature in the delightful, funny and tender People, Places, Things. Read More
Every once in a while an independent film comes along and rocks the film world to its core. People, Places, Things is not that film. It is however a richly charming film full of love and life lessons. James Strouse‘s latest was an affable dramedy about the woes and joys of marriage, divorce and parenthood in the chaos of NYC. Our full review beamed over Jemaine Clement finally getting the role he deserved and rightfully pointed out Strouse’s quiet ode to race in relationships. Joinging the rest of the cast, Strouse detailed the process of making the film, where his ideas came from, working out the score with Mark Otson, graphic artistry and using race without “using race.
How did the script change, from when you first came up with the idea, to what we see on the screen?
James Strouse: You know what, there’s a process – I’ve been writing for a while. I wrote this very quickly. I wrote a lot of things that were hinting this way, for a long time, and then I wrote the first draft really quickly, and then I just put it away, and didn’t think about it for a long time. That was really cool, because when I brought it out again, maybe half a year later, I knew exactly what to do – there were some things that immediately seemed wrong, and I changed. It evolved, organically, over time. Putting it away and forgetting about it was really important.
Jemaine, how much did you see of yourself, in that character, and are you still a hiphopopatamus?
Jemaine Clement: It’s hard to balance the emotional part of myself with the hiphopotamus part of myself. The main challenge in filming. I really get it quite down, before a part. Are you satisfied?
Can you talk a little bit about the casting? All of the casting is great, but Jemaine is really a revelation.
JS: I love this thing and it was really just the script. I started thinking about, “Well, if I could get anyone, who would I get?” These people were the first on my list, and basically, they wanted to do it. I basically had a feeling that they would all play off of each other really nicely, and I think they all do. Everyone’s so distinct, and funny, and subtle. The casting, I don’t know if there’s anything more in-depth you’d like to know.
Who did you cast first?
JS: It started with Jermaine.
The dialogue is so well-written for the cast. Did you change a lot of it? Were they improving it, as they discovered their character, or did they just nail their character?
JS: Well, these are all fantastic actors, so they make everything seem natural. Like I said, the people standing here are the people I wanted in. I have so much respect, and enjoy their work. I was confident they were going to be great. I think they were. Very early on, Jermaine very politely asked, “Is it okay to go off-script?” And I said, “Of course.” Everyone went off a little, and we used a lot of it. Everyone sort of respected what each and every scene was about. It wasn’t like we ever had unusable stuff. It was within the characters they were creating. It wasn’t like, “What would be funny to do here?” It was, “What’s the funniest thing I can do, that’s right for the character.” It’s all them, they did it. They made it seem natural.
Can you tell us about the graphic art?
JS: Yes. Colleen Sharpe help me put it together. Greg Williams also did the drawings for Rhode’s character. To be honest, from the start it looked great. He was a student in a screenwriter class of mine. He was working on a script that he wanted to adapt into a graphic novel. I said, “Can I see your drawings? I want to see what you’re thinking for the dialogue.” He showed me the drawing, which were like the drawings in this movie, and I thought, “This is amazing. These drawings are amazing.” I said, “I have this script about graphic novels. If I ever make it, I’d like you to do the drawings.” And he just kind of rolled his eyes. But then it happened! And then Cat’s drawings – Lauren Weinstein, who’s an SBA teacher, she teaches in the comic art department.
Obviously, the music filled out the film really well. Can you talk a little bit about the composer?
JS: Mark Orton and I were doing a roundtable about the relationship between director and composer. Just like all these wonderful actors here, I loved his work. My experience, in the past, with making films, is you put in a lot of temp music, music that you can’t actually use, but it works for now, and then you get really wedded to that music, and then a composer comes in, and tries to approximate that, and does something completely different. What happens with this film is that I put a lot of Mark’s music in the temp score, so I knew how it was going to feel. I love his music! It’s fantastic! He’s scored a lot of lovely films. I think there’s something really about the sensibility that fits this movie. It’s funny, without trying too hard. It has emotion, without pushing it too much. It’s lovely, itself.
I was strangely touched by the depth of character of Kat and Diane. Can you talk about that character evolved over the course of making the movie?
Regina Hall: It was the way that it was written, and it was really nice to get on-set, and have Jim be like, “Okay, you can improvise here, whenever you want.” We got to play, and explore, which was nice. The character came out of that.
Jessica Williams: Same for me. Jim was so great, so great and so talented! I love Kat so much! But I love her so much, so I think going into it, respecting everyone’s artistry, and her artistry, and kind of made the natural connection.
Regina and Jessica you both get to play African-American women who are smart, driven and without attention paid to your race. What was that experience like?
JW: I noticed when I read the script from Jim, it didn’t have race in there. I think he was just casting women. I asked him, “Do you think about race? Do you now?”
JS: I just wanted good actors!
Having retired from his role as the Hiphopopotamus, Jemaine Clement frequents our living rooms and theaters all too infrequently. His 2014 cameo in Muppets Most Wanted didn’t nearly suffice to fill our favorite Kiwi quotient and we’ve yet to take in his lauded vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows (though we eagerly anticipated its eventual stateside arrival.) Nor can we really kid ourselves into believing that Clement’s existence beyond Flight of the Concords has been far-reaching – though his role as Boris the Animal was an easy highlight of Men in Black 3 and tapped into his unrealized Hollywood potential. So it’s with a heaving sigh of relief that we can announce that Clement has finally been given a role worthy of his gawky stature in the delightful, funny and tender People, Places, Things.
Going for the heart and the belly laugh with each delicately placed jab, Jim Strouse tells a humbling NYC dramedy that would feel at home amongst HBO’s heady comedic lineup. People, Places, Things opens with a man and his wife unhappily in marriage, publicly wrenched apart by a birthday party affair (all the more embarrassingly at the hands of the not-so-sexy Michael Chernus) and later forced to reconcile for the sake of their twin daughters.
Clement plays Will, a graphic novel artist and a teacher at the School of Visual Arts (where Strouse himself works and teaches) going through the motions of adulthood. His long-standing indifference with the world is reflected by a series of simplistic but affecting black-and-white illustrations in a yet-unfinished comic book autobiography. Will’s coy about the autobiographical nature of this illustrated tell-all but his book’s character is a spitting image down to the scruffy-headed mop of the toothy New Zealander. Gentle heartbreak sets in as Strouse flips through frame after frame of the book’s protagonist/Will-stand-in looking lost and alone with a speech bubble persistently asking for “more space.” His parents, his friends, his wife, all have left him craving breathing room and now that he has it, the reality of solicitude slaps him heartily with the question of “Well what now?”
If there’s one (or two) things that Will does not want space from, it’s his daughters and as the narrative turns towards Will taking on increasing responsibility for his children and accruing more time with their fast-aging antics, we get a sense of his potential as a father. Along the way, Will is propositioned by student Kat (Jessica Williams) and get’s his panties all in a bunch about this or that being inappropriate. “Gross,” Kat mutters and fills him in on the fact that she’s in fact (unsuccesfully) trying to hook him up with her more age-appropriate but totally-bangin’-for-her-age mother, Diane (Regina Hall.)
Strouse’s saga of arrested maturation and the awkward footing towards becoming a reputable parental figure is presented with a soft earnest but is special for another prominent reason. Notably forward-looking in his depiction of race, Strouse skirts calling attention to the bi-racial relationship that develops by focusing on the inner-workings rather than the outer makeup of his characters. And for good reason. Hall and Clement make a great match, her sage advice clashes ever so gently against his accidental aloofness and their chemistry sparkles.
If there’s anything holding People, Places, Things back it’s how slight it all feels – another solid entry into the increasingly salient category of elevated rom-com. But we must credit Strouse some major points for the manor in which he moves the dial forward with a gently nonchalant but entirely progressive depiction of romantic race relations. To destigmatize is a powerful thing, especially when you don’t even realize it’s happening.