By Kelsey Duchesne
The opening scene of Other People instantly reveals that it will not conclude in a traditionally happy ending, while simultaneously affirming that it’s not a hope-shattering, Love-Story-esque-drama either. Comedy and drama synergistically fall against each other so abruptly, your body tries to keep up with your emotions. You’re crying, then laughing, and sometimes doing both at once. Your body rocks back and forth, and rather quickly, you find your sea legs.
The semi-autobiographical film was written and directed by Chris Kelly, a longtime writer for Saturday Night Live, who became Co-Head Writer shortly before Other People was released. Kelly was physically in the theater when I watched it, present to conduct a Q & A after the show. He later told us he thought there was a back way out of the theater, but once in the back without a door, didn’t want to casually exit from the front and disrupt the movie--so he watched it again, with us. It was such a delightfully awkward and comedic moment, one that unknowingly complimented the movie itself.
The film follows 29-year-old comedy writer David (Jesse Plemons) upon returning from New York to his hometown of Sacramento, as he cares for his dying mother (Molly Shannon). Shannon’s performance as Joanne highlights her enormous talent, talent we rarely see in dramatic roles. She plays Joanne with a strength and heart that remains constant, even as her physical health begins to waver and subsequently descends. Her quick sense of humor is smart and heartening, and makes you almost wish for a second film where you could explore her subconscious.
Other People tells the story entirely through the lens of David, an unreliable narrator present for the last year and end of Joanne’s cancer struggle. Kelly meshes the intensity of David losing his mother with the pain of his breakup, struggling to succeed professionally, and attempting to find common ground with his father, who doesn’t accept his sexuality. As David begins to accept that he is losing his mother, he wonders what will happen to his relationships with the rest of his immediate family. He wonders if he will be successful, and if he will make his mother proud. “This just all feels like something that happens to other people,” a tired David says to his friend Gabe (John Early). “Well now you’re other people to other people,” he replies.
When the movie was over, Chris Kelly walked down the steps of the theater and generously answered all of our questions. Although Kelly has been clear that not every aspect of the film mirrored his life, having him there almost made it feel like you were watching his home movie (but like, a brilliantly shot movie that is interesting and complex and has no naked baby bathtub scenes.) Even his close friend D’Arcy Carden is in the film and plays herself (in the film, Jessica), a friend and fellow Upright Citizens Brigade cast member of David’s. Carden’s reaction to David’s quiet pain and Joanne’s fate is deeply beautiful and touching; it intensifies when you know her performance is part good acting, and part memory.
The first question was from a man who told Kelly that his father had passed in February from cancer, and the movie was incredibly therapeutic to him. “Thank you, that's actually quite comforting,” Kelly responded. “I mean, I am incredibly sorry for your loss, but one of the best parts of this film is meeting people who have been through similar experiences and who have found comfort from the film. The absolute best part.”
I nodded from my chair, thinking about the day I became Other People three months before. I thought about the millions of people who discover they have cancer each year, and how many Other People there must be, and how isolating and alone you can feel in such a painfully big network. However, I didn’t feel alone in that small theater, as I watched Kelly animatedly answer the questions for his audience. Instead, I thought about how hope isn’t always looking for the best possible ending, but finding humor and a reason to smile in times you don’t expect it.
You should see Other People-- watch the trailer below! In select theaters now, and Netflix soon!