American writer Shane McGoey, known best for his work on blockbusters Django Unchained, Now You See Me, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, takes a bold risk in his solo feature debut. Showing at this year’s New Orleans Film Festival, The Cinema Report takes an exclusive look at People.
by Ste Wood
From Die Hard, to Falling Down, to The Machinist, to Gone Girl, the general public has often been romanticised for the sake of film. When sitting down to watch a flick about normal people, you can usually expect everyday life to take a back seat in favour of grand set pieces and unlikely characters facing improbable situations. That is, unless you’re sitting down to watch writer/director Shane McGoey’s People, a film set so relentlessly in the real world, it avoids any true narrative or journey for any particular character. In the stead of a prototypical three act structure built around the growth and personal development of an individual, McGoey has crafted an engaging true-to-life world and simply dropped the viewer in different rooms at different times. Not that there isn’t any kind of pay off in the climactic scene, but we’ll get to that soon.
Broken into six separate vignette-style shorts, the independent film had my full attention from the opening minutes right to the final climactic chapter. Making excellent use of everyday locations, People has enough substance in it’s dialogue to compensate for the unconventionally downbeat tone that runs throughout. The writer drops you in the first of six unassuming locations, and from there, the different collections of contrasting personalities let their opinions of each other and the world around them provide an insight into who they are. There is no journey. No redemption. Just people, and their different perspectives on how and why they are where they’re at in life.
In a sequence driven by a mix of sexuality and self hatred, troubled twenty-something Rainey (Christine Lekas) is seen waiting impatiently for a middle aged psychiatrist in a late-night therapy session. As soon as the two start talking, it becomes obvious that emotions are running high, with the emotionally scarred patient going on a rant that irritates and angers the old school doctor. This was a good choice for the first scene, as Rainey’s ongoing tirade reveals enough about her character to draw attention to others in the remaining chapters, and how the seemingly disconnected narrative could logically come together.
The second chapter is based around a clash of contrasting opinions on the nature of sexuality, with two former lovers debating their different stances on how they view themselves. The two men continue to argue in a quiet restaurant, until one receives a phone call that his sister (hint, hint) has been admitted to the hospital. This leads into the half way point of the film, where a group of four friends (one of whom happens to be a doctor) are watching a boxing match on TV, until Brandon and Renso start arguing about politics on a personal level. After Brandon brings up an embarrassing story from their childhood, Renso breaks his nose, causing the group to head to the hospital.
In what begun as a low point of the film, but quickly improved as the stakes were raised, the fourth scene acts as the catalyst for the climax of the film. A young woman is driving her obnoxious boyfriend to the hospital. The journey quickly dissolves to a heated argument, with the two deciding to end their failing relationship. The shakey foundation their union was built on becomes evident in the coming minutes, and is then completely forgotten about when the car spins off the road mid-collision.
Rewind back twenty minutes, and Franz, a misunderstood writer, is in the middle of an argument (noticing a theme yet?) with two high-up studio executives. In a true high point of the film, Mustafa Harris delivers a relentlessly passionate (albeit long-winded) monologue about freedom of expression within film. Although the fourth wall is very cleverly broken (considering how the scene relates to the film it is a part of), I did find myself slightly disinterested towards the end of the writers near 10-minute tirade. Not to take anything away from the scene, which does still fit in with the rest of the film non-linear, nonsensical progression through each of the five interactions. I just felt that after the first four character dynamics were all set so relentlessly in the real world, Franz’s quest to have his artistic vision realised seemed like a big jump.
The fifth scene ends tragically when it is revealed that the car crash from earlier was in fact caused by Franz walking into the road and getting mowed down by the vehicle. The twist came as a very pleasant surprise, and provided a satisfying conclusion to the unique and ambitious journey I had just taken. Characters from all five previous scenes finally came together in a conclusion that saw them all stay perfectly true to their varying personalities. While not all engaging with one and other directly, they all proceed to argue with anyone who will listen. That is, until a doctor emerges from the trauma unit and pronounces Franz The Director dead. In a sobering moment for all present, a silence falls over the room as once shouting voices all join in reflection and acknowledgement.
To call People a great film would be untrue. It isn’t. There were moments that completely took me out of the experience when I first watched it. Some noticeably choppy editing in the second scene, places in the fourth scene that seemed to drag a little. And as I’ve already said, I would’ve preferred it if Franz’s monologue wasn’t quite as long and thorough as it was. But they are small details. When you step back and consider the ambitious goals the writer had set for himself, it would be unfair to say he didn’t achieve the over all goal he set himself. McGoey clearly has a vision of a film that could do two things; break the conventions of modern cinema, and still be successful. Through engaging and well crafted dialogue, he proved the former is possible with People. As for the latter, only time will tell for this expertly written ensemble drama.
People is showing at the Ace Hotel, New Orleans on Saturday 18th October at 10:00pm.
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