THOSE PEOPLE is a thoughtful film about embracing adult relationships and figuring out what needs to be left behind – a familiar place in life that we have all seen. Charlie (Jonathan Gordon) is an art student - born and raised on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, working to finish his thesis project, and struggling with the frustrated reality of his love life. For years, he has pined for his best friend, Sebastian (Jason Ralph), living quietly with his unrequited feelings. Sebastian shows no interest, treasuring (okay, often abusing) Charlie's friendship and comforting presence while simultaneously stringing him along and basking in the knowledge that he comes first and foremost in Charlie's life (yeah, he’s kind of a tool).
It is only when Charlie meets Tim (Haaz Sleiman), a handsome, charming pianist, that things begin to change. As Charlie begins to explore this new relationship, he finds he has less room in his life for Sebastian's antics. He finally experiences real love and a legitimate, two way relationship where both partners are equally valued, and this comes into conflict with the ever unresolved issue of Sebastian’s presence and the haunting promise of what could be.
Sebastian is an interesting player in this story - simultaneously a point of sympathy and our unknowing villain. He has been Charlie's best friend for years, but their relationship has grown toxic. When the story opens, Sebastian is dealing with the aftermath of his wealthy father being sent to prison for an investment fraud. Disgraced, broke and directionless, Sebastian needs more propping up and moral support than ever before, and Charlie has always been his go-to companion - the one friend who never tires of his bullshit, choosing to see only the good in his friend, and not the rotting parts (which are spreading).
The script, bolstered by a well-executed performance from Jason Ralph, conveys Sebastian’s pain and frustration, but the film never fully lets him off the hook for his behavior. We see him struggling with the difficulties in his life, but we never exactly come down on his side when we see him behaving like a manipulative, petulant child. We are allowed to see him for what he is, but he is never excused from it.
Charlie’s relationship with Sebastian is very one-sided, and everyone except Charlie seems to be able to see it. But such is the nature of first love, even if it isn't reciprocated. We are often blind to what is right in front of us. This story is about Charlie's journey to love, learning to understand and spot a good thing when he sees it, and learning how to realize finally that something has no chance - for the betterment of all.
THOSE PEOPLE is a solid debut effort from Joey Kuhn, full of characters with real, relatable problems and a point in life at which we've all been, one way or another. Charlie is still coming into adulthood, and is wrestling with all of the confusion and baggage that comes with that. We all grow up, and sometimes our childhood friends and relationships can't come with us. We grow and change and carve out new spaces for ourselves and through it all, learn how to be loved.