Regina Hall On The State Of Women In Comedy & Why 'People Places Things' Is Not Your Typical Rom-Com
A veteran of films like Scary Movie, Death at a Funeral, Think Like a Man, and About Last Night, Regina Hall ventures into a more understated brand of humor with People Places Things , a genre-defying rom-com about a down-and-out single dad (Jemaine Clement) still clinging to the vestiges of his failed marriage.
"A lot of rom-coms are more rooted in fantasy," says Hall. She says she was drawn to the realism of People Places Things, in which her character's relationship with Clement (spoiler!) "just doesn't work out."
"It's heartbreaking, but it's not all-consuming," she adds. "Or, I should say, it's disappointing." Hall plays Diane, a Columbia professor of American literature, an erudite foil to Clement's graphic novelist and illustration professor at SVA, Will Henry. But — and here's where the intrigue begins — she doesn't read comic books, and in fact, disdains them. As the duo's relationship moves forward, though, she warms to them (in one scene, Alison Bechdel's Fun Home sits on a coffee table).
It's a bit ironic, then, that despite its reference to the namesake of the Bechdel Test (and the fact that writer/director Jim Strouse has vocalized support for gender equality in film), People actually fails to pass the test. It's frustrating how few scenes exist between female characters. Yet the women that do populate the film are as complete as any of their male counterparts.Take, by way of example, Hall's character. Diane is a single mom, an avid reader, experienced in bad relationships (her daughter Kat (Jessica Williams), illustrates her mother's romantic saga), and, it just happens, a professor. Her profession and education aren't exploited as a plot point, but instead, it's simply accepted that she can be the romantic lead while also being a successful and happily-single professional.
In many rom-coms, "it's a single woman searching for the perfect guy," Hall explains. "I know Diane certainly wasn't looking, and you know what? Neither was he."
Though Diane has relatively little screen time, she leaves a big impression on those around her. "For me, it's not how many scenes a character is, it’s how relevant she is to the story and to the characters around her," Hall says. "Even though Diane isn't in a lot of scenes, you felt her."
The same could apply to Williams's Kat as well as Stephanie Allynne's Charlie, Will's ex-wife. The writing leaves space for the women to develop personalities — no two characters resemble each other, Hall says, and it results in a more realistic product on screen. In preparation for the role, Hall wrote a more complete backstory for Diane, including her idiosyncrasies, her insecurities, and her talents. It's a practice she's developed for each of her film roles, as a comedy requires presence within a character's psyche and a knack for timing that comes from substantial "homework," she says.
Short screen-time aside, People Places Things clearly has respect for its female talent, and Hall believes this might be part of a larger trend towards female-forward comedy. "It's never quite the same as for men," she says, "But it's great to see so many amazing female comedians and comedic actors pushing the envelope."
It speaks to the film's feminism that despite her admiration for Diane, Hall says she was attracted to the screenplay as a whole first, and her character second. The film is rife with incredible women, which the actress says was evident in the writing itself even before the cast started to play with the roles. "There were so many beautiful subtleties that I love about it," she says.
Despite being labeled as a comedy, People Places Things excels in balancing its humor with real, honest drama. The film opens with a sudden split between husband and wife, stranding their twin daughters somewhere between them. When the protagonist finds a hint of new romance, he blows it up seeking reconciliation with his ex-wife.
In most rom-coms, "You usually see a woman going through a breakup," Hall — who's quite familiar with the genre — says. "The guy’s moving on, and she’s devastated, and her girlfriends are helping her while her guy moves on — or he gets someone pregnant."
People Places Things has enough humor to pull it out of tear-jerker territory, but it permits a greater dramatic range for each of its characters. Says Hall, "It's kind of this flip on the archetypes that we've seen in films and movies before."
At the end, there's no "sewing-up," as the actress pithily describes the traditional romantic conclusion. There is a wedding — just not for Will. And there's hope, but it's not for his relationship with Diane. Like its title, People Places Things focuses on the mundane, and finds humor in the everyday — for its men and women in nearly equal measure.
Images: The Film Arcade (3)