STARRING Elizabeth Banks, Chris Pine, Michelle Pfeiffer, Olivia Wilde DIRECTED BY Alex Kurtzman SCREENPLAY Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jody Lambert MPAA RATING Rated PG-13 RUNNING TIME 115 Mins. DISTRIBUTED BY Touchstone Pictures DVD EXTRAS NA
People Like Us is the kind of film that you either surrender yourself to or you don't. You either find yourself drawn into the lives of its characters or you find yourself checking your watch in anticipation of its ending.
Which one will you be?
Co-written and directed by Alex Kurtzman, who also penned the recent Star Trek, People Like Us is the kind of film that far too often gets lost at the box-office but, perhaps if there's any justice, the film may be able to attract adults craving an escape from superhero fare in favor of an intelligent and sensitively written family drama with a formulaic yet compelling story.
With the script, Kurtzman takes his real life experience of meeting his half-siblings later in life and crafts the experience into an involving film brought nicely to life by his ensemble cast. It's rather refreshing that Kurtzman, whose screenwriting history has included two Michael Bay films in addition to the recent Star Trek, has chosen as his directorial debut this intimate drama with a modest $16 million budget.
Sam (Chris Pine) is a successful salesman in corporate bartering, a not always ethical line of business that has proven to be lucrative if questionable. However, Sam's career already seems on the verge of imploding when he receives word that his father, with whom he's long been estranged, has recently passed away. He heads back home with his ever loyal girlfriend (Olivia Wilde) into a home filled with bucket loads of tension and a self-involved mother (Michelle Pfeiffer). Sam learns that his inheritance is to include a shaving kit filled with $150,000 in cash that his father has requested he deliver to a Josh Davis (Michael Hall D'Addarrio) and his financially struggling mother (Elizabeth Banks). It's likely not surprising that Sam will soon discover that this struggling mother, Frankie, is a long unknown half-sister from an affair his father had years ago.
People Like Us doesn't just sound formulaic. It is formulaic. Fortunately, for the most part, it's a formula that works. While I will confess that Chris Pine isn't the first actor I'd have thought of to play such a complex and hefty character, Pine redeems himself quite nicely and proves that he can do far more than play Captain Kirk. Pine exudes both the swagger to pull of the film's early scenes and the heartfelt vulnerability that makes you see the young man who has been wounded for many years.
The film's real gem, however, is Elizabeth Banks, who once again proves she's one of Hollywood's most underrated actresses. Few actresses do both humor and heart as well as Banks, and as Frankie she's both hilarious and heartbreaking at times in the same scene. The scene where Banks learns of her long absent father's death is heartbreaking, yet she exudes both a "tough as nails" quality and a stunning vulnerability that leave a strong impact even when the words being spoken can be mouthed even before she speaks them.
Michelle Pfeiffer isn't given much beyond a one-note character to work with, but Pfeiffer still sinks her teeth into and manages to rise a couple notches above the formula. Michael Hall D'Addarrio also shines as Josh, a kid whose rebellious nature is the product of his own wounded childhood with a mother who tries hard but never quite gets it. Olivia Wilde also shines, though she's also given little to do here.
There are definitely times when People Like Us falls short, mostly a result of Kurtzman's self-indulgence and, perhaps, his inability to separate Kurtzman the director from the Kurtzman who lived out aspects of this story. It's difficult to understand, for example, why Sam feels so compelled to continue acting out a facade other than the fact that it makes for a more powerful dramatic moment when the big reveal finally comes along. Early scenes between Sam and Josh are, in fact, just a tad creepy as this smooth and attractive guy in a convertible suddenly takes an interest in this fairly isolated child. Fortunately, the film gets back into gear and for the most part overcomes its early stops and starts.
It's the flaws and vulnerabilities contained within People Like Us that makes it such a compelling and natural film even if it doesn't exactly feel authentic. There are threads that are initiated without resolution, mostly an extended thread involving Sam's growing legal issues and Sam's unresolved relationship that appears closer to resolution by film's end yet not in a way that is remotely satisfying.
Tech credits are solid throughout, though A.R. Rahman's original score may be a fine piece of music but it simply doesn't fit within the framework of the story. Kurtzman's story is a quiet story filled with subtle dramas and intimate nuances, while Rahman's score is more overt in its approach and constantly trying to tug at the heartstrings in the most irritating of ways.
If you fancy yourself a fan of good ole' fashioned adult dramas, then People Like Us may be the perfect cinematic escape from superheroes, special effects and low-brow comedies. While the story may seem familiar, Kurtzman and his cast and crew bring it to life with such an earnest heart and humor that People Like Us will stay with you long after the closing credits have rolled.