Published Jan 22, 2016Let's get this out of the way — in the very first scene of Other People, Molly Shannon's character dies. The film then rewinds a year, and we watch her slowly, painfully wither away as a rare form of cancer takes its toll on her. It's a dark and difficult watch, to be sure, but it's also a bright and sunny comedy packed with big laughs.
Set in the strip malls and subdivisions of Sacramento, Other People is visually warm and lush. Outside of the big C, there's an entire other story in here: In his late 20s, David is a budding comedy writer who regularly performs at the Upright Citizens Brigade and has received online daps from Splitsider. He's on the verge of breaking through, if only a television network would follow through on one of his pilots.
He's also gay, and despite coming out to his parents 10 years ago he still isn't accepted by his otherwise loving father (played with realistic warmth by Bradley Whitford).
David's home from New York to visit his family, and there's no shortage of hilarity as he tries to relate with the people from his past. In this movie, Sacramento is entirely populated by familiar comedy faces (Matt Besser, Paula Pell, Kerri Kenney, Retta, Waymond Lee, The Birthday Boys' Mike Mitchell), all of whom perfectly capture the naiveté of small-town living.They fawn over Applebee's, sing the praises of the grocery-store DVD rental machine and give David unwanted comedy advice, all the while listening to Train's "Drops of Jupiter" on a near endless loop.
It's a sunny, familiar story that'd stand on its own if it wasn't spliced with Joanne's very real struggle. As the movie unfolds, the beloved matriarch goes through the standard cancer problems — hair loss, constant vomiting, bed-ridden weakness — and we see her transform from a crackling, can-do character to a woman who has been defeated. It's dark and morbidly real.
There's a lot and going on, and watching Other People would feel like it was at least two movies at once if it weren't for its near-perfect pacing. Right after a harrowing Shannon scene, another big gag will keep things from getting too weepy. It helps too that both Molly Shannon and Jesse Plemons turn in outstanding performances. Even in her whispering frailty, Shannon lends Joanne a warmth that makes us love her as if she were our own mother, adding another layer of empathy to the story. Like the audience, Plemons goes through an emotional rollercoaster onscreen.
The cancer dramedy is becoming a trendy genre thanks to standout flicks like 50/50 and lesser fare like Drew Barrymore's 2015 stinker Miss You Already. Other People stands out from the pack, however, as a true outlier thanks to its expert balance of humour and drama. You'll laugh hard, you'll cry like a baby, and you'll leave wanting to phone home and see how everyone's doing.