Like a genre of its own, Other People is a story about a writer who has to travel home to help care for his mother who dying of cancer. You may feel like you have seen this kind of weepie before but writer-director Chris Kelly infuses the film with humor and truth, never trying to manipulate his audience with the subject matter.
Jesse Plemons stars as David. He really hasn’t had the best luck lately – he’s struggling to find long term work as a comedy writer and he and his boyfriend, Paul (Zach Woods), recently broke up. None of that should matter, especially when he has to travel back home when his mother, Joanne (Molly Shannon), has taken a turn for the worst. The whole family tries to keep spirits strong around the house and Joanne wants to carry out the rest of her life having fun and doing so with dignity. She has parties, goes to David’s improv shows, visits her coworkers and has a lot of fun smoking her medical marijuana. She’s dying, she knows it and she refuses to let it bring her down.
David doesn’t love going back to Sacramento, often talking down about it. He presents himself with an air of superiority and, usually, for no valid reason. He has two younger sisters, who love when he visits, but things are awkward at home because his father, Norman (Bradley Whitford), has never accepted David for being gay.
The dying parent and struggling artist elements of Other People have been seen in various films of similar ilk but Kelly is telling his personal story here. The movie isn’t autobiographical but inspired by the dark moment in his life of losing his mother. From interviews, he has said that he recreated similar moments that happened through his mother’s journey and transcribed them to the screen, which gives Other People a sense of catharsis for the writer-director. It also helps provide a much more moving experience for an audience.
In his first starring role, Plemons is strong as David, balancing his fears and failures, while trying to show his mother that he is doing okay in his life, even when he truly isn’t. Shannon, who we have all loved and appreciated for years, gets a chance to show that she is capable of more than the daffy comedienne. She and Plemons share most of the screen together and have the film’s real big moments and their performances work in tandem beautifully.
As an honest portrayal of loss and acceptance, Other People is a film worthy of your time. Some of us have seen it before, and unfortunately maybe lived it, but Kelly gives us a reason to believe that after the bad, we just might be alright.