Why ‘Other People’ is more than just another Cancer drama

As the new year was approaching, I saw numerous ‘Best Movies of 2016’ lists by friends on Facebook. The usual suspects were there: La La Land, Edge of Seventeen, Manchester By the Sea, Twentieth Century Women (well, it was on my list. I don’t think many people have seen it yet.). However, there was one movie that kept getting mentioned which I had never heard of, which of course was very distressing. I pride myself on knowing all good movies. So, I did my research and found that the film was on Netflix. I suggested watching the film to my brother, we watched the trailer, and thought, eh, looks a bit depressing.

I watched the film yesterday on a lark and…was a COMPLETE MESS. Some people out there who know me well are reading this and thinking, Lindsay, you cried at the trailer for This Is Us, how can we trust you? And okay, you’d be right. I am a bit emotional…or a lot, whatever. However, what Other People did to me wasn’t like, a sniffle. This was me on the floor of my room balling uncontrollably. Thank god I was alone – it wasn’t pretty.

If you’re unfamiliar, Other People, written and directed by Chris Kelly, is the semi-autobiographical story of David (Jesse Plemons), a NY-based comedy writer who comes home to Sacramento to take care of his dying mother (Molly Shannon). In addition to his grief, he deals with the uncertainty in his own life: his dating life, his work life, and his own mortality.

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LITERALLY SOBBING

I think it’s pretty safe to say the Cancer genre is a bit tired, filled with cliches and manipulative outbursts. However, I think Other People sidesteps those issues for the following reasons:

The Cast

I was familiar with Jesse Plemons from watching Breaking Bad and of course, Friday Night Lights. I always liked him but this was a very different role for him, one in which he was really allowed to show everything he’s got. When he breaks down in the middle of the grocery store, I was a goddamn mess.

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I think we’ve all had a meltdown in a grocery store, right?

But, really, the real shining star of this film is the wonderful Molly Shannon. I was only familiar with her from early 2000’s SNL and I always thought she was funny. Similarly to Plemons, this was a different kind of role than what Shannon has played before. I was impressed at how understated she was, how quickly she could go from comedy to intense drama. Her standout scene for me was when she visits the school she used to work at.

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Molly Shannon deserves an Oscar nod for real.

The supporting cast is made up of some very funny people including Bradley Whitford, (who I discussed in my post on The West Wing), Maude Apatow, Paul Dooley, who I discussed in my post on Breaking Away) and Zach Woods. Sprinkling the cast with such funny people allow a reprieve from the heaviness of the subject matter.

The Script/Direction

I had never heard of Chris Kelly prior to this. He’s worked as a writer/producer for both Broad City and Saturday Night Live, which is a pretty impressive resume, especially considering he’s only thirty-three years old.

I’ve been lucky in my life in so far as I haven’t dealt with these issues yet (KNOCK ON WOOD). However, there were eerie similarities to my life. I grew up in Sacramento, just as Kelly did and my mom is also an elementary school teacher. I’m now living in Los Angeles trying to pursue tv writing.

I think this film resonated because of all those things, but on a deeper level, the script was ultimately about the human experience. It’s a slice-of-life film. We get the sense that we’re not seeing the most important conversations. Instead, we’re experiencing the realness of the situation, the drama and the comedy, the heartbreak, the whole gamet of emotions.

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So sweet! 

Additionally, it’s not directed in a melodramatic way. You don’t feel that you’re being manipulated. After all, we will all ultimately deal with this situation. Maybe not in this way, but still, the character’s journey is universal.

The film is personal, powerful and extremely poignant.

Small films are worth recognizing. And while some could argue that this is far from being a small film (just look at the producers and the CAST!), it obviously wasn’t big budget. It was a quiet film, a personal story, and that’s why it hits in such a big way.

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All about the small moments.

As an aspiring writer, I was inspired by the film. As a filmgoer, I was unbelievably moved. You should all check it out on Netflix, one of the most underrated films of 2016.

Trailer Below:

Other People Gifs property of Park Pictures.

What It’s Like to Binge-Watch “The West Wing” as a Millennial

There are two reasons I felt compelled to write about Aaron Sorkin’s seminal series about life in the White House. One, I recently wrote about Sorkin’s film, The American President, which was the really the precursor to The West Wing. Secondly, the ATX Television Festival honored the show a few weekends ago by reuniting the cast as well as the producers for a panel.

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AUSTIN, TX – JUNE 11: The cast of the West Wing, Joshua Malina, Janel Moloney, Bradley Whitford, Dulé Hill, Melissa Fitzgerald, and Richard Schiff with Director Thomas Schlamme and Series Creator Aaron Sorkin attend the “The West Wing Administration” panel during the 2016 ATX Television Festival at the Paramount Theatre on June 11, 2016, in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Frank Micelotta/Picturegroup)

My introduction to The West Wing was a few years ago, something I spoke about in my post about The American President.  I became obsessed with all things Sorkin after discovering The Newsroom. For some reason though, I associated The West Wing with old people. I know that sounds dumb, but there’s really no classier way to put it. I associated the show with an older audience and didn’t think I would be able to relate.

I’m happy to say I was wrong – not necessarily about the show being associated with an older audience, but about it not being accessible. I, of course, like others my age, discovered the show long after it was on the air, on Netflix. I meant to only watch one episode, but that’s not what happened. I watched them all…not in one sitting of course, but let’s just say, it was over the course of a few weeks. I watched Bartlet and Josh get shot in the season one finale and in the same week, saw CJ get a death threat well into season 3.

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No one really talks about it, but there is a major difference between consuming a show all at once and waiting from week to week to see what’s going to happen. Being 24, I still clearly remember the hysteria I felt, rushing home to watch the Gilmore Girls finale. Now, we take in multi-season television shows in sometimes a week or less. It’s sort of like a drug. We all tell ourselves we’re only going to watch an episode or two but that never quite happens because it’s right there and WE NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS.

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I found this pattern particularly interesting in the case of The West Wing. I quite literally couldn’t stop. It was a problem. The real world was just less interesting than the lives of Josh, Toby, CJ, Sam, Donna and President Bartlet. Aw, if only people really spoke like that. I recently decided to revisit the show and was struck by the relevance of the show today. True, they don’t have cell phones. Okay, they do, but really OUTDATED CELL PHONES. With the recent Democratic Presidential Primaries, I was struck by how much of Bernie Sanders’ platform is spewed by Bartlett and in later seasons, Matt Santos.

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In the midst of my binge, I called my dad, who of course already knew I loved the show. I told him I was re-watching it and he told me he had no interest. When I asked why, he told me that the show was too depressing. Given that most of the show was made during the Bush years, he found it unrealistic and upsetting now. I never had a problem with the optimism and idealism which the show displayed as I was a Sorkin lifer, but my dad, having a degree in political science and having seen many more presidents than I have, couldn’t handle it.

I, however, completely disagree. Through shows like The Newsroom and The West Wing, I acquired an interest in politics and news, two subjects which I had little to no interest in before. The purpose of entertainment to me is twofold: obviously, we watch for entertainment value, but beyond that, I go to the movies and watch TV to be provoked intellectually. I believe that entertainment has the power to change perspectives, to help us walk in someone else’s shoes. Aaron Sorkin’s work does that for me. During the ATX panel, Bradley Whitford who played Josh spoke to this, saying…

“No human being will ever again write 22 one-hour episodes for four years – beautifully written, complicated verbally, complicated personally, funny, about something, as 11 feature films a year. It is extraordinary. It will never, ever happen again!”

On a superficial level, The West Wing is just a joy to watch. The character dynamics are fun and the dialogue is fast. The Josh-Donna of it all doesn’t hurt either.

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#SWOON

But, with each episode I consumed, I learned something new. I was not a political science major and so, many of the problems the characters had in the White House were foreign to me. The Josh and Donna dynamic was partly a way for the audience to understand these big concepts – Donna would ask Josh a question and he would answer in simple terms.

I also started listening to The West Wing Weekly, a podcast hosted by Joshua Malina (who plays Will Bailey in later seasons) and Hrishikesh Hirway. I, at first, thought this might be a waste of time, but after 12 hours in a car listening to every episode, I have a different opinion. Joshua and Hrishi discuss the show with humor and don’t always sing the show’s praises. In addition, they’ve had several guests on the show, one of which was Eli Attie, who in addition to being one of the writers for The West Wing, was also one of Al Gore’s speechwriters during the 2000 election.

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Hrishikesh Hirway and Joshua Malina

The show is ambitious which is what I love most about it. Looking at today’s television, I’m struck by just how special The West Wing was. It was a network show which succeeded in having opinions, compelling character drama, and also just being plain entertaining. There are, of course, moments that feel outdated. However, quality writing and acting stand the test of time…even if Sorkin may repeat himself sometimes. Millennial problems, amiright?

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All seven seasons of The West Wing are available on Netflix….so, um, you should watch now….What’s next? 😉