Comedy writer debuts weepiest film at Sundance
You may not know the name Chris Kelly, but you probably know his work. I mean, who didn’t love the Adele Thanksgiving sketch on SNL this fall or the Beygency skit a few years back. Both were written by SNL alum Chris Kelly. And now he’s moved on to feature films, in a big way. For his first foray into filmmaking, he decided to take on an all-too-familiar genre: the cancer drama.
Billed as a semi-autobiographical dramedy, Other People follows David (Jesse Plemons) a New York comedy writer who moves home after his mother is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. The movie takes place over a year with this family, from the time David moves home to when his mother finally succumbs to her disease (no spoilers, I promise it’s revealed in the first scene).
Molly Shannon was stunning as David’s mother, Joanne. She carried the film to places it would not otherwise have gone. Almost all the emotion was directed by her character.
While Jesse Plemons was clearly meant to be a flawed protagonist on his way to redemption, he never quiet reached that cathartic release. I was hoping for a heart-wrenching and lonely moment, a la Joseph-Gordon Levitt screaming in the car in 50/50. But the closest we got was a drunken rage during a late-night trip to the supermarket, which he brought on himself. The film culminates with a scene in which he seems to make amends due to guilt rather than self-realization.
As would be expected from an SNL alum, Other People was overflowing with laughs. The humor was in the little things, the day-to-day that everyone can relate to: a cashier ringing you up at the pace of molasses or an old man standing just a little too close to you at the bar.
While his comedic-style was funny and fresh, in some ways Chris Kelly also played it safe with his use of humor. Given his comedic background, I was hoping Kelly would poke some fun at the ever-growing ranks of cancer dramas, but there was no indication that he was trying to push the boundaries of our expectations. The humor remained in the family dynamic and day-to-day activities, rather than being self-aware of the genre itself.
And don’t get me wrong, I bawled my eyes out as Molly Shannon has her last moments with her son, and I laughed so hard it hurt when an oblivious family friend leaves a rambling voicemail while going through a drive-thru. All the emotions were there in full force. The entire audience clearly reacted emotionally to Kelly’s film (about half of the audience questions during the Q&A after the screening were not in fact questions but rather congratulatory statements about the success of his film). While Other People isn’t perfect, it was definitely personal and it’s elements of humor, love, and loss will strike close to home for many.