Inspired casting lifts ‘People, Places, Things’ only so far

Unlike, say, 6-foot-6 Vince Vaughn, who has a jazzy physical grace that makes him deft at comedy, the New Zealand performer Jemaine Clement is a big guy who looks uncomfortable in his skin.

Or maybe he’s not that big (IMDb says he’s 6’1”) and he just looks like a hulk — large facial features, arms that hang down awkwardly at his sides. The low-pitched Kiwi twang, too, is the voice of a lumberer.

But this slow-looking man is a very funny person, as his HBO series “Flight of the Conchords” and scattered big-screen appearances (in Jared Hess’s cracked-nuts cult picture “Gentlemen Broncos,” for instance) have proved.

Clement is one of the inspired pieces of casting in “People, Places, Things,” written and directed by James C. Strause. As sadsack Will Henry, he proves himself adept at playing both comedy and the authentic human qualities of a 40-year-old teacher who is profoundly disappointed in career (his work as a graphic novelist has stalled) and love (the mother of his twin 6-year-old daughters dumped him for a Mike Daisey-like monologist).

It’s a New York story so gentle in its approach that it feels insubstantial, with very few flourishes or new wrinkles to make it stick.

“People” is an easy watch if you’re a fan of Clement, who not only maintains his droll delivery but seems to have real chemistry with the actresses who play his daughters, Aundrea and Gia Gadsby.

The movie comes up short in what it allows its other excellent performers: Stephanie Allynne isn’t given enough to do as Will’s ex, and Jessica Williams proves ready to expand on her “Daily Show” persona but acts purely as a plot advancer.

And then there’s Clement’s romantic sparring partner, a Columbia literature professor who looks down her nose at comic books. (An out-of-date reference; academics have long since claimed the graphic novel for the new canon.)

Regina Hall is a great idea for the part. Even though she has worked steadily, she still seems underused — a notable exception being the raucous 2014 remake of “About Last Night,” in which she and Kevin Hart tore the place up.

But having cast Hall in a fun role, the movie leaves her offscreen for vast sections of its running time. Too bad — she and Clement are an odd couple we want to see more of.

“People, Places, Things” (two and a half stars)

Good role here for the New Zealand comic Jemaine Clement, as a bummed-out graphic novelist raising two twin daughters. The movie’s so mild it barely registers, however, and it doesn’t come close to using the talents of Regina Hall, as a professor matched up with the cartoonist.

Rating: R, for language, subject matter

Showing: SIFF Film Center

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