They tell me the romantic comedy is dead. That to have two characters realize their undying love for each other on the top of a skyscraper, tears abundant, as audiences warm the deep ventricles of their hearts, is extinct. Outside of Nicholas Sparks and perhaps those tales involving vampires, the genre has died. Yet, perhaps it has not.
Perhaps, like many elements of our society, the romantic comedy has just evolved. Take for example James C. Strouse’s PEOPLE PLACES THINGS, in which aloof graphic novelist Jemaine Clement juggles the pains of a divorce with the aspirations of finding love again. Trailers for Strouse’s film leaned toward the innocent pandering to Clement’s charm and wit. Audiences waited as he tried to find a match through the chaotic streets of New York City, weaving between a budding relationship with the mother of a student and gasping among the straws of opportunity with his estranged wife. Yet, in the middle of all of this, lies the new parameters of the romantic comedy, the children.
PEOPLE PLACES THINGS is a romantic comedy, though pointed in a new direction. Replacing the cliche montage scene of young love with simple vignettes of fatherly affection such as kite flying, camping while playing cellos, pizza for breakfast, and the inevitability of being late for school, the relationship that builds between the audience and Clement’s Wil Henry is not between him and his wife or his budding relationship, but instead with his children. There is never a moment where we feel like Clement is not 100% committed to his children. Through their eyes we see his highs and lows, we follow his fear as his wife asks to get remarried, and throughout all the ebbs and flows of this film, our minds (or at least mine) was focused on the children. Which creates an interesting and new dynamic. I am thinking of the scene in which Clement and Regina Hall connect over blankets for an impromptu sleepover due to a mismanagement of time. Stouse delicately pulls the strings of our hearts with Clement’s discovery of a potential match with that of worry about the confusion of his children. As they nearly kiss, falling on the bed, one cannot help but think – are his children safe, are they merely in the next room, how big is this apartment, and what must be going through their minds? And yet, the evening concludes with him staying next to his children and not the new relationship.
Like any good frustrated parent, the arguments placed between Clement and his ex-wife are not focused on each other, but instead returning to the subject of their children. Sex is eliminated early in the film, with a quick removal of a shirt during an awkward interruption during their children’s birthday party, Strouse quickly eliminates the attraction between Clement and his ex-wife. Not once did I feel the chemistry return (or even was it there in the first place?) Strouse transfers the focus toward the stress on individualism among the shrapnel of over-scheduled after-school activities. Can you still be yourself while raising children? Clement’s ex-wife explores the borders by transitioning into Improv (a world she could not visit while married and with children), while Clement becomes more of a father than he ever was before, bridging the love between him and his offspring.
Yet, I continue to think about “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” explored by Clement in one of his illustration classes. Is this about Strouse’s life, or merely a movie about the new paternal dynamics in society? This is a story of Jemaine Clement, his post-marriage year so to speak. We interact solely through the window of his life. He navigates us through the new world society of the single father. A father falling in love with his children.
Structurally PEOPLE PLACES THINGS is a solid comedy, but as it builds, flaws develop. Clement is charming as Wil, delivering witty one-liners in one of his more mature roles to date, but be warned, many of the jokes delivered in the trailer are amongst the best in the film. The ambiguous nature of the title provides little to no insight into the adventure ahead. Yet, despite the bumps, I would still classify this as a modern romantic comedy. Using internal illustrations void of technology, we witness Clements transition from missing father to ex-husband to proud parent. Strouse’s choice of music neither heightens or detracts from the film, providing an elevator like score to Clement’s misadventures. The flat ending provides a glimmer of hope that he has cleared his heart, and is ready to be himself again, living outside the ideal social boundaries. Yet, in the end, like any good romantic comedy – he fell in love.