If you’ve heard of comedian Jemaine Clement, you’ve likely seen him strumming a guitar in hit series Flight of the Conchords.
But he’s done with band meetings – at least for now.
The New Zealand actor has moved on to other projects and his latest movie, People Places Things, is an indie drama with a dash of comedy.
The movie is partly based on the life of writer/director James C Strouse.
Clement plays something of a serious role, clearly attempting to move away from the absurd humour we’ve come to associate him with. And he successfully manages to do so. Sort of.
People Places Things stars Clement as Will Henry, a graphic novelist and teacher raising two young daughters in New York.
On his twin daughters’ fifth birthday, Will catches his wife Charlie (Stephanie Allynne) cheating in an upstairs bedroom.
The pair separate and a year later he is forced to re-evaluate his direction in life, all the while discovering just how difficult being a single parent can be.
What starts off as a dry comedy with no clear direction quickly evolves into an absorbing drama with a simple yet effective message: we can’t predict the future so there’s no point worrying about the past.
“Happiness is not a sustainable condition,” Will says to his idealistic and prudent ex-partner.
It’s a dramatic change for Clement, who’s used to standalone comedy. Shaking off his famous alter-ego proves challenging, as the delivery of the lines draws many a parallel to his iconic Conchords role.
The comparisons begin in the first few moments of the film, when a confused Will catches his wife in bed with another man. “Are you guys having sex?,” he asks in nitwit manner.
Clement’s brand of humour is self-deprecation with a hint of ignorance. It’s hard to say whether the laughs can be attributed to his delivery or the script itself, as even the actor admits he wasn’t sure whether it was a comedy when signing on.
Clement’s other quintessential brand of humour lies in his ability to stereotype New Zealanders as submissive, placid characters.
You tend to wonder how the film would have fared without Clement, as much of the amusement seems to emanate from his Kiwi accent.
At the very least, Will’s half-hearted parenting is another element that manages to provide a few laughs. From feeding his kids pizza for breakfast to getting one of his students to babysit, the single father soon discovers just how little he did during his marriage.
Nonetheless, there’s more to the story than silly humour and this becomes clearer towards the end of the film.
Sure, it’s a little bit clichéd at times, but People Places Things has more colour and humour than your average indie movie.