Six vignettes featuring an ensemble of characters who grapple with each other in order to gain control of their own perspectives.
It’s rare to see an indie film that is littered with people just… talking to each other, pondering existential issues, be it over dinner, or at a party, or in a car. It’s even more rare to see such a film succeed (the suspenseful “Locke” with Tom Hardy comes to mind). Shane McGoey, having gained some experience as a PA on major Hollywood productions, had the balls to come up with such a concept – folks challenging each other’s perspectives of existential issues in contained spaces – and follow through with it, as a result producing one of the better micro-budget films this year.
His “People” comes with a discloser – “This film is meant to be taken in small doses” – and while I don’t necessarily agree with it, I see McGoey’s point: each segment is stuffed with so many themes and ideas, it’s a lot to take in. That said, he never lets the film get bogged down in its own pomposity – the acting is so natural, the dialogue so well-written that the only frustration “People” may cause is the desire to pause and rewatch a sequence, to see how it so naturally went from point A to point B.
Split into six seemingly random segments, “People” starts its unconventional journey with “Being for Others,” a study of sex, identity, generational differences and power. A young woman, Rainey (Christine Lekas) etches an ouroboros into a table (the film’s central theme of wholeness is hinted at here) at her psychiatrist’s (Greg Homer) office, as she reveals a history of family abuse and her consequent inability to feel pleasure, resorting to sexual asphyxiation. “I don’t think I know how to love,” she says. “It’s necessary for my happiness.” The session swiftly becomes a power play, with the protégé becoming the mentor, so to speak, resulting in a somewhat-awkward and hilarious finale.
“The Lacked,” “People”’s second chapter, finds two young men, Jeffrey (Rane Jameson) and Richard (Jake Wynne-Wilson) in a Chinese restaurant, after sleeping together. They have entirely different perspectives on sexual identity, sex, monogamy and commitment. “I make myself every day,” Richard tells Jeffrey when confronted with being a “fag.” “I’m not a light switch, like you,” Jeffrey snaps back. The non-sequitur ending to this episode actually made me pause the film and re-think the entire segment from a new angle.
“Control” – the most assured, entertaining and resonant chapter, finds four men – a conflicted war veteran, an acerbic and eloquent “gangster,” a mysterious silent observer and a nurse – debate the futility of war, as they do drugs and bet on a fight unfolding on TV. They conversation gets progressively more heated, and it becomes impossible to take your eyes off those charismatic actors. Poignant, unpredictable, with razor-sharp dialogue that deals with the implications of war, the reasoning behind joining the military, and yes, control, this is the best segment by far, breathlessly twisting stereotypes inside out. It’s the best Tarantino scene Tarantino never wrote.
In stark contrast, “Values” happens to be the weakest point of the film, and the shortest (if you discount the madcap ending). Conspiracy theorist Baldwin (Baldwin Justice) and his exasperated girlfriend Taylor (Margot Bienvenu) drive to a hospital after Baldwin had a mishap at a fountain that resulted in a foot injury. They bicker the entire way about religion, privilege and ultimately their relationship – until the harshest, most abrupt ending in “People.”
In “Bad Faith,” screenwriter Franz (Mustafa Harris) has a bad conference call during the strangest party you’ll ever crash. “Where’s the meat and potatoes?” the disembodied producer voices on the other end of the line demand. “What’s at risk here? Where are the character arcs?” They go on like that for a while. A self-referential statement on narrative structure, selling out, creativity vs marketability, having faith in the artist and their audience, “Bad Faith” is also a showcase for Mustafa Harris, who goes through a wide spectrum of emotions while being on the phone throughout the entire segment. His rant about the hollowness of Hollywood is a sight to behold.
The final chapter, “Nothingness,” connects all the characters in an amusing and surreal fashion, tying the film together in a satisfying way. To say anything else would ruin a borderline-berserk finale that somehow makes sense in the context of the aforementioned proceedings. Think of “People” as an indie “Crash” on acid, or a contemporary take on Neil LaBute’s “Your Friends & Neighbors.”
Despite some issues with editing (some shots don’t match), Shane McGoey’s film is a well-written and audacious effort, filled with wonderfully odd moments – such as a boom mic purposefully appearing in the shot at one point – that tend to accentuate/complement the film’s unusual structure and surreal undertones (which, in turn, point out the absurdity of life). The acting is uniformly excellent, especially for a fresh, “untested” cast. Let’s hope this one doesn’t entirely slip under the radar. Kudos to the filmmaking team for making a compelling film, imminently watchable from start to finish, comprised of nothing more than people… being people.
For more information about the film please visit the Official Website