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Soundtracking: Other People

by Chris Feil

Writer/director Chris Kelly has quietly become one of our sharpest surveyors of gay life in a very straight world. His is a gay perspective adept at illuminating the very specific mileage between not only queer folk and the straight people who think they understand them, but also between gay generations often lumped into one.

We saw this at play this year in the new beloved series he co-created, The Other Two, but we first got that insight in his underrated debut feature Other People. This semi-autobiographical dramatic comedy saw a thirty-year-old gay writer David (played beautifully by Jesse Plemons) returning to his suburban home to care for his mother Joanne (the immaculate Molly Shannon), recently diagnosed with cancer. All of that human drama, including its gay textures, get embodied in one perfect song choice that Kelly uses throughout...

Who among us hasn’t wanted to gouge their eyes out when confronted with Train’s “Drops of Jupiter”? One of Other People’s most rewarding jokes is reminding us just how earnestly cloying it is. It’s a broad swing of feeling but empty emotion, a song about nothing or... some kind of woman floating through space. The funniest moment with this recurring joke is when it becomes a long distance dedication from noted connoisseur of treacly schmaltz, radio DJ Delilah - perhaps enacting the one true destiny of the song’s conception.

And it’s not just that the song is annoying, it’s also the sound of the suburbs. It’s omnipresent in its grocery stores and waiting rooms, forever drifting in and out from cars passing by. “Drops of Jupiter” is the song equivalent of the Pier 1 furniture and vanilla candles that populate its homes. It’s that song that hasn’t left the CD player of your mom’s car because she forgets to take it out - but she doesn’t mind listening to it again, anyway.

To some, those things signify comfort and fulfillment. To others (certainly gay people), those things represent the weight of things unsaid and unreconciled, the complicated pain felt where seemingly everyone else can feel easy joy. For all these reasons, “Drops of Jupiter” is the perfect song choice to both laugh at and to ultimately embrace in the context of Other People’s delicate balance.

As Joanne nears death, David’s gay displacement in suburbia brings its own layers of self-loathing and anxiety. Even the unplaceable pop of a younger queer kid leaves him on the outside. When he breaks down, it becomes the symbol of the song “Drops of Jupiter” that he rages against. Suddenly the joke isn’t all that funny anymore. The rest of his family may be able to participate in the comfort of the song in singalong, but he is still left on the outside.

Ultimately, all of this is becomes different in the shadow of death. After Joanne passes, David is left with her plea that he stay connected with his sisters. “Drops of Jupiter” returns, taking on new meaning. The song may not heal David, just as no death or single gesture can bridge a divide made over years of disconnect. But instead of signifying all that pain, maybe now it can represent the attempt of healing.

Here Kelly does the impossible: he makes us like this schlocky song.

All Soundtracking installments can be found here!

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Reader Comments (5)

This was a really fantastic movie that I happened to catch on a whim and was blown away by the performances -- especially Plemons and Shannon. She should've been a Supporting Actress contender.

April 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterParanoid Android

And he should have been an acting contender,his performance was so spot on,a non flamboyant gay man comfy in his skin but not a trope in any way.

April 10, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

Fucking Train. God they are one of the most atrocious acts to come out of the 21st Century. I hope I'm not the only person that wants to shoot Pat Monahan in his fucking throat. I hate his fucking voice.

April 10, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

I made a playlist two weeks ago for a short road trip, and added this song strictly BECAUSE I had seen this movie! It's so true...I like that darn song now. And there's no way I can avoid thinking about this movie when I hear it now.

April 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJess K.

Train has to be one of those really shitty rock bands that take their very much deserved portion of hatred in real time (see also: Nickelback, Toto), yet I will be lying if I didn't say the moment "Drops of Jupiter" starts playing while Plemons watches Shannon's picture on the wallboard crushed my soul.

April 12, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMe34

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