Sunday, July 1, 2012

People Like Us (2012) - Movie Review

It's interesting how a movie titled People Like Us, doesn't actually have people like anyone I know in it.  But People Like Them or People Like Who? don't really work, do they?

Chris Pine stars Sam, a salesman that finds himself in trouble both financially and legally, as he gets news that his estranged father has passed away.  With his girlfriend (Olivia Wilde) in tow, he heads home.  He's so against going home that he (unsuccessfully) attempts to sabotage his travel plans.  This causes him to be late to the funeral, which upsets his mother, Lillian, greatly.

After the funeral, his father's lawyer hands him a bag with $150,000 and a note that asks him to give it to a boy named Josh.  Sam is torn, because the money would really help him and debates keeping it.  He does track down the boy and his mother, Frankie (Elizabeth Banks).  It doesn't take long before Sam realizes that Frankie is his half sister and she has no idea who Sam really is.

Frankie has her own problems as a recovering alcoholic.  Since she works all hours of the day as a bartender, she has very little control over Josh, who's always a step away from being expelled. Sam quickly bonds with Josh, but Frankie takes a little more time warming to him as she's unclear on his intentions.

The strength of People Like Us is all in the performances.  This is the best dramatic work I've seen out of either Chris Pine or Elizabeth Banks, and I thought Banks, in particular, really stood out.  She's both vulnerable and feisty.  I've always felt her strength has been in her comedic roles, so it was nice to see a different side of her.

Michael Hall D'Addario is also very good as Josh, but is desperate need of a haircut.  These messy, boy haircuts are a trend I hope fades out soon.  I also enjoyed Michelle Pfeiffer as Sam's mom.  Is it just me, or is she still sexy as hell?  Mark Duplass, who's in everything lately, has a small role here as well.

Much like last year's Roadie, People Like Us features a nice sampling of older, lesser known music.  As Sam's father was a musician and music producer, it works in the context of the film.

This is the directorial debut of writer Alex Kurtzman, who's joined once again by co-writer Roberto Orci.  These are the guys have have written movies like Star Trek, Transformers and Mission: Impossible III, so People Like Us is a totally different direction for them.  The movie states that it's based on real events and apparently Kurtzman drew from some of his own life experiences.  I hope his real experience didn't play out like this movie did.  The characters are well written though, and you at least understand their motivation and what they are going through.

The main problem with the movie is that is does run on a little too long at almost two hours, and is paced a little too slowly.  There's a subplot revolving around Lillian's health that wasn't really necessary and felt tacked on to add even more drama.  Perhaps the biggest flaw of all is that it could have been a good 20 minutes shorter if Sam would have revealed who he was much sooner.  While I can understand not wanting to just come right out and tell Frankie up front, there's no reason to postpone telling her for as long as he did other than to string the movie, and us, along.  The delay in telling Frankie nearly leads to a "Luke and Leia" moment towards the end, and you see it coming from a mile away.  Yes, there's nothing like almost accidental incest in a family drama.

It does have a very sweet and sentimental ending that, once again, may have people reaching for the tissue.

People Like Us is a bit long and melodramatic, but it's saved by great performances from it's cast, especially Elizabeth Banks.  Its characters are interesting, sympathetic and you can't help but like them.  It also serves as a change of pace from all the Summer action films and comedies out there now.  However, I'd put this more in the rental category.

3 (out of 5) Death Stars

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