I lost my mother when I was 23 years old. To say that it changed my life is an understatement. But what I remember most about that year was the way I saw my mother change from a healthy woman to someone withering before my eyes, like a green leaf slowly turning brown and brittle. In Chris Kelley’s ‘Other People,’ Jesse Plemons plays David, who has to come home to his naive Sacramento to take care of his dying mother. He has been having a tough time: he broke up with his boyfriend of five years, his pilot did not get picked up, and he has to deal not only with his mother’s illness, but his father’s denial and indifference to his sexual orientation. David is a celebration of subtlety – he keeps everything to himself, and Plemons’ poker face gives the blank expression an opportunity for us to reflect, empathize, sympathize. He is the soul of this film. My favorite parts are when he tries to search for happiness in the midst of it all – when we are in the middle of taking care of someone else, we have this sometimes dangerous desire to take care of ourselves.
Molly Shannon’s Joanne is the beating heart, though. She gives her character an inner glow that makes her dying more heartbreaking.We see her as a vibrant woman, wearing sparkly clothes, and then we see her slowly changing like a candle melting. There is an unforgettable scene where she goes to the elementary school where she used to teach. All her co-workers try best to keep the conversation light, and Shannon, barely able to speak, conveys more in a sad gaze than a mile of dialogue.
Kelley knows how to mix humor with the sappy sad parts. He knows that laughter can cut through the saddest moments, highlighting the melancholy. There is a scene where David comes back to New York and sleeps at the apartment where he lived with his ex. It shows the closeness and intimacy that is shared by two people who have loved each other.
This film made me do the ugly cry. I sometimes think I have been through so much in my life that there are no more tears to be shed. But then a film like this comes along and I have mixed feelings – the sadness comes back, the situations feel overly familiar, but also, there’s a certain hope that the worse could be over and there will be better days ahead.