I can’t tell you how painful it is to watch Molly Shannon die. I’d like to tell you that you have a 90 minute movie to get used to the idea, but no. It’s right there, right at the start. And yet, with such a severely maudlin occurrence bookending it, Chris Kelly’s Other People is still heartwarming and funny through and through. Be prepared for your heartstrings to get a severe tugging.
A darling of this year’s Sundance, Other People takes what could easily be a dreck-filled indie film dirge and turns it into an intimate portrait of a dysfunctional family dealing with an untimely demise. Shannon, in a strong, yet supporting role, brings life to slowly dying woman. While there’s plenty of screaming and vomit, Shannon’s strongest moments are the quiet ones–a tragic visit to her character’s former workplace, an intimate and tightly framed moment after she’s rescued by her character’s son following a fall in the shower.
For Shannon, accepting the role was a no brainer.
“Chris Kelly, our amazing writer/director, sent me the script and wrote me a letter,” she explains. “I read the script. I read it in my bed, and I remember closing it and I cried. It took my breath away. I just loved it. I called him right away and said I could do it, and then I went running and I listened to a Miley Cyrus song called We Can’t Stop and I felt exhilarated! And I still run around, and listen to that song, and think about the movie.”
Taking on a role like this is often challenging even for the most accomplished actor. Play it too heavy, or too light, and it’s easy to veer off into the realm of the inauthentic. Even Shannon recalls being intimidated at first.
“I remember a neighbor told me: You better hire a coach! I should get a coach,” she admits. “I remember she really scared me. I was like, Yes! What would Charlize Theron do? She would hire a coach!”
“I think Laura Dern,” she adds, “who I worked with on Enlightened, she’s amazing. She’s from a family of actors, and she told me the best thing you can do is be in the moment. which is the truth.”
Coming away from the movie, one things that’s clear is that the powerhouse cast had genuine chemistry. It was easy to believe that they were a real family, flaws and all. According to Shannon, that’s primarily due to working with Kelly.
“That’s definitely due to Chris Kelly,” she confirms, “because he makes the sets so comfortable. He wrote it, so he knows the material inside and out. So it starts with the director just creating that tone and ease. Because he was so calm and prepared and knew exactly what he wanted, it just was fun. It was so creative and the most fun.”
Despite the film’s small budget, the stars took advantage of the time on set to get to know one another and help create that sense of chemistry. Shannon speaks fondly of working with and getting to know her co-stars, including Jesse Plemons, Bradley Whitford, and Maude Apatow. There wasn’t a lot of lead up time to the shoot, though, which showed their skill as actors. One scene in particular stands out for her.
“Jesse and I had only had one coffee before,” she recalls, “and then on day one we shot this very intimate mother-son scene in bed, where we’re kissing one another, and I remember thinking wow this is so wild. This is crazy. But it’s what’s so great about acting. We were both just really in the moment, and it’s what’s so wonderful about immersing yourself into a role.”
That’s not to say that Other People is all tears from start to finish. Kelly takes full advantage of his actors’ comic chops, with many laugh out loud moments featuring Shannon in particular.
While the movie isn’t perfect, it’s absolutely enjoyable, and will likely leave you dealing with complex feelings when it’s over. It certainly did for me.