A few weeks ago, my brother mentioned that Molly Shannon (Never Been Kissed) was in a movie distributed by Netflix called Other People, but he hadn’t seen it yet. So I watched it and immediately told him to pause Rupaul’s Drag Race and press play on Other People instead. We now fight over who recommended it to whom. In fact I loved it so much, I watched it two more times that week.
Other People is about a year in the life of a family dealing with the devastating news that their matriarch is dying of cancer. David (Jess Plemon) is a scriptwriter and he’s moved home to Sacramento to take care of his mom Joanne (Molly Shannon) as she goes through chemo. While managing his rejection as a New York comedy writer, he also witnesses the sad demise of his beloved mom while now living at home with his conservative dad.
Every pillar of his life is falling down around him and it lead me to believe this movie was going to be utterly tragic. But Other People is littered with moments of hilarity and beauty. It hasn’t haunted me one little bit.
In the opening moments we see Joanne die. We see the family of five laying on the bed of their dying mother. Their cries are visceral and devastating to hear.
But knowing that Joanne dies immediately sets the trajectory of the film. It’s a poignant story about the final days and moments of one’s life rather than a medical mystery – will they find a way to save her?
It is very rare that an entire film feels unscripted, but Other People succeeds in this. The family talks over each other and have the kind of conversations that you would have with your own dysfunctional family. The characters often slip in their language. There are flaws in their conversation. The scenes are real and raw and relatable.
Aside from Jess Plemon’s stand out performance as David, there are two performances that I really respect. Molly Shannon and Maude Apatow (Knocked Up). Aptow is the daughter of actress Leslie Mann and director Judd Apatow and she has more talent in her little finger than I do in my whole body. I both hate her and love her for this. She plays the youngest daughter Alexandra and is subtly divine.
Apatow’s role kept her in the background for most of the film. But her moments shone. You can feel the silent, deep heartbreak in her eyes when her brother continually brushes her off. She is invisible to David, but she wasn’t to me. I had my eye on her the entire movie.
Then of course we have Molly Shannon. When I usually think of Shannon, I think of Drew Barrymore’s ditzy best friend in Never Been Kissed. However, in Other People she slips into the role of lead actress and it looks damn good on her. Shannon’s comedic timing is wonderful as always but she found her true power in her more heart wrenching scenes. She threw vanity to the wind and appeared gaunt and frail. She owned the screen through comedy, regret, anger and resignation. And she owned my heart as she navigated the end of life and the hideous betrayal of her body.
Other People has a smart cast, it makes bold choices and has a brilliant soundtrack. It made me laugh through tears. What a divine movie-watching experience it is.