People is an independent film written and directed by Shane McGoey involving six character vignettes that are woven together, attempting to tell a larger story. It’s a filmmaker’s film and a director’s film, and a movie that celebrates closely focused and dialogue-heavy scenes. It’s heady, in an introspective way, attempting to dissect its characters’ motives and psychology. The acting is brilliant, it’s well-written and taut. However, its ending is slightly unfocused; and while the film is deep, it’s often cynical, which causes some of its revelations to miss the mark.
Independent films are, as a genre, typically character focused and devoid of the usual trappings of Hollywood such as huge budgets, glamorous production sets, and big name actors, so I won’t use these as detriments or plusses. Clearly, McGoey has poured tremendous time and effort here into the script and screenplay, and it shows. The first thing I noticed about the film upon the opening are its pristine cinematography (the camerawork is done by Carlos Bible, who has 19 credits to his name), which is crisp and sharp.
The second thing I noticed was the acting talent, which is equally pristine. From the opening scene and thought the film’s 1 hour and 24 minute run-time, you can easily become engrossed in the film’s characters, which are driven, singlehandedly, by the actors playing these roles. For most of the each vignette, we’re treated to a monopoly of steady cams and long shots, the film’s characters tasked with heaps of dialogue and exposition – which they accomplish without fail.
Two actors – Christina Lekas, who plays a character named Rainey, and Jake Wynne-Wilson, who plays Richard stuck out to me as the MVPs (most valuable players) of the film. They accompany the film’s two opening vignettes (all of which are titled). Lekas’ vignette is entitled “Being for Others’” and takes viewers down a road of sexuality, physical abuse, and undertones of self harm and rape. I wont’ say more here, but suffice it to say the themes are deep and brutal – though its characters reaction to them are repressive and cynical. The scene plays a hand of poker with viewers, lays down its cards, then tacitly turns them back over. Wynne-Wilson’s scene, titled “The Lacked,” is similar in its execution, involving sexuality once again, sexual identity, and relationships. Both vignettes, which involve monologue in long shot, succeed almost solely on the hands of their actors. It’s a credit to McGoey and Bible that they become mere spectators to the events and don’t try to influence them.
The film’s other skits involve themes of varying dynamics, from bullying, PTSD, suicide, couples fights, and creativity. Some of these are more effective than others. It includes looks at stereotypes, coupling, personal beliefs, and, surprisingly, a lack of empathy. It poises itself as a character study, but often its vignettes involve one – to use a term I hate – “woke” individual educating another on his or her naive views regarding sex, relationships, and/or life. One of these rationalizations turns out to be correct…to a point. Another seems to be standard trope for one person who avoids commitment like the plague “teaching” another the folly of monogamy.
The characters often suffer from much fragility and dearth of self-esteem. However, rather than explore this concept fully, the film remains on the dialogue as an end in itself. For instance, one character’s deep rooted belief that love is a labor worth questing for is sandwiched between this same character’s lack of alarm at a loved one being injured. Another scene sets up the expectation that their relationship may not be the best; but it still leaves a lot of questions unanswered that even its pandemonium-filled ending avoids explaining (though McGoey himself does attempt to explain the purpose of his film in a montage entitled ‘Bad Faith’ centering on a scriptwriter named Franz).
People ties the skits together, and by its end you will see the arc that McGoey has in mind. But as a whole, the end of the film hits more like a question mark than an answer. Some characters behave in ways that were expected from previous scenes. The film even touches lightly on some important aspects of healthcare and personal responsibility; however it quickly trades these in for the dramatic. By the time one character threatens to “pull an ISIS” on another toward the film’s conclusion, or another character bends professional ethics for the second time this film, I felt like I missed the boat on what People was trying to tell me.
People is a celebration of good writing, acting, and cinematography. Despite its chaotic ending, viewers will no doubt get absorbed in its characters. It’s a well-made film and entertains. I’d be interested to see what McGoey could do with a story with a little more arc and a little less focus on stereotypes and the cynical.
You can check out more here: http://peoplethemovie.com/ People is available on Google Play, iTunes and Amazon Prime.