Terminal illness can strike any one of us at any moment. We all have that feeling that it happens to “other people”, and life-changing events such as this can make us completely re-examine what is important in life. At the heart of Chris Kelly‘s Other People is a lovable family who on one hand is slowly descending into a devastating loss but is also experiencing a cathartic transformation of healing and compassion. Through all their flaws and complexities, the family develops a bond that fundamentally changes who they are and each member is finally able to let go of past mistakes.

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David (Jessie Plemons) is a struggling comedy writer in New York City. After his boyfriend dumps him and his pilot show doesn’t get picked up, his difficult year continues to get worse when he must move home to Sacramento to help take of his mother Joanne (Molly Shannon) who has been recently diagnosed with cancer. Away from the bustling gay community of New York and his group of friends, he finds himself feeling isolated and having to face the secrets he’s been keeping from his family and the difficult past he ran away from. As the months pass and his mother gets sicker, David is challenged by the strained relationship with his father Norman (Bradley Whitford) who has not accepted him as being gay. However, the situation begins to finally change when reality sets in that Joanne doesn’t have much longer to live and that she was the glue that was holding the family together. Norman, David, and his two sisters Alexandra and Rebeccah decide that the only way they can stay together is if they resolve the differences threatening to tear them apart.

As a first time writer and director, Chris Kelly has managed to create a film full of skill that shows immense talent and potential. He has crafted a subtle yet deeply moving story full of emotional complexities and well-rounded characters. Kelly has managed to draw out real and grounded performances from his cast that completely draw the viewer in.

As the dying matriarch of the family, Molly Shannon continues her string of impressive dramatic roles that show that she’s more than just the comedy she became known for. Jesse Plemon’s David is a wonderful example of a rich and three-dimensional gay character that is still all too rare in film and television. The character is dealing with his flaws and insecurities just like anyone else, he just happens to be gay. Young rising star J.J. Totah (Glee), who plays the younger brother of David’s friend, is also a standout, stealing every scene he is in as the flamboyant comedic relief.

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Other People has managed to tap into universal experiences and verbalize what many people go through when staring death in the face. Whether it’s a family member, friend, or ourselves, we search for the big epiphany about life and what the journey means. Some of the most profound moments of the film come watching Joanne begin to accept that she’s not going to beat this. In an incredibly moving scene, she is visiting with friends and a wave of loss is hitting her as she is silently saying goodbye to the life she had.  It’s hard not to feel that weight with her.

The film also has a great underlying sense of playfulness to it, using dry, sarcastic wit to alleviate the sadness. The characters use humour as a coping mechanism to process what is happening. The wonderful thing about Other People is that it reminds us to continue looking for joy in life, even in the face of tragedy and pain. These experiences are what make us human and life worth living no matter how short it may be.

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