If you've ever seen "The Flight of the Conchords," then you'd be forgiven for assuming that the goofy Jemaine Clement (he's the one with the glasses) couldn't possibly pull off believable dramatic acting in a leading-man role. You'd also be wrong, as evidenced by his lovely performance in writer-director Jim Strouse's "People Places Things," a sweet but safe romantic comedy about a newly single father trying to reconcile his past and establish a future.
Strouse gets the plot moving quickly, with Clement's Will walking in on his girlfriend Charlie (Stephanie Allynne, "In a World...") with another man at the fifth birthday party for Will and Charlie's twin daughters. Fast-forward a year and Charlie is fielding a marriage proposal from the man she left Will for, while Will, a successful graphic novelist and college professor, works through his emotions via his art as well as teaching materials which might be a little too personal. One of his students, Kat (Jessica Williams from "The Daily Show"), decides to fix Will up with her literature-professor mother Diane (a revelatory Regina Hall, the "Scary Movie" series), and though the date devolves into awkwardness, there's an unmistakable spark between Will and Diane, both wary of involvement but clearly craving connection.
"People Places Things" is as much about Will and his dealings with adult women as it is his relationship with his daughters, Clio and Colette (Gia Gadsby and Aundrea Gadsby, both adorable and unaffected), a bond that he understands takes precedence over his romantic life, even though he struggles (often hilariously so) with the logistics of solo parenting. There's nothing terribly surprising about how the film unfolds, with unresolved feelings, miscommunications, and little epiphanies, but that's kind of forgivable. Real life usually plays out in the same predictable way, and Strouse's observant screenplay feels at least a little autobiographical.
Strouse (he also made 2007's well-received "Grace Is Gone") initially sets Charlie up to look like a cuckolding bitch, more of a story device than complex woman, but neither does he let Will off the hook for their entrenched problems, giving Charlie (and by extension Allynne, in a layered performance) her own earned path to... well, if not happiness, then perhaps contentment, and definitely on her own clear-eyed terms. But this is Clement's film: he's in pretty much every scene and he sells them all, whether he's wrestling with a tiny tent while camping with his delighted daughters or having one of those heartbreaking but necessary conversations attendant to two people trying to untangle lives that will, nonetheless, be forever intertwined.