Courtesy of Vertical Entertainment. Jesse Plemons and Molly Shannon in Other People.
When Chris Kelly started writing Other People, it began more as an exercise than an emotional outlet. After years penning sketches for shows like Saturday Night Live and Broad City, he needed to know if he could draft a feature-length film script. For material, he turned to an event in his life that seemed anything but comedic -- his mother's death from cancer. "They say to write what you know," he says with a grin.
Fast-forward to last January, and Kelly found himself before a crowd of industry professionals waiting for his directorial debut to kick off the Sundance Film Festival. "Every step along the way has been a surprise," Kelly says. "I wasn't even thinking about getting in [to Sundance]. That was too good to be true. To be the opening film -- that wasn't even on the table for me."
While exhilarating, the journey also put Kelly's life on display in dramatized fashion. Kelly's own mother died in 2009, and the writer's emotional journey plays out onscreen through the character of struggling comedy writer David, played by Friday Night Lights' Jesse Plemons.
In addition to grief, the film explores Kelly's complicated relationship with his own parents. At one point, David's mother, played with nomination-baiting earnestness by Molly Shannon, weakly squeezes out a guilt-stricken apology for reacting so negatively when he came out. In another scene, David's father, played by The West Wing's Bradley Whitford, lingers in a dark alleyway to avoid meeting his son's lover. It's a fictionalized account, and Kelly quickly notes that his own father never exhibited such bad behavior, but he hopes that people see something relatable in the onscreen patriarch despite the character's slow shuffle toward tolerance. "He has a certain set of beliefs but is a very kind man who is a good husband and is a good father in many ways, just like the character loosely based on me can be a little piece of shit," Kelly says. "It's just a complicated family, trying their best. That's frustrating because sometimes a good person just has a different set of beliefs, and sometimes there is nothing you can do about that."
After Sundance, the film went on to open the Sarasota Film Festival and the Houston International GLBT-Q Film Festival, and it screened in numerous other festivals, including Outfest. Other People opens September 9 in theaters nationwide.