[Review] – People Like Us

8 Jul

Title: People Like Us
Year: 2012
Director: Alex Kurtzman
Writers: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Jody Lambert
Starring: Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks, Olivia Wilde, Michelle Pfeiffer, Mark Duplass, Jon Favreau
MPAA Rating: PG-13, language, some drug use and brief sexuality
Runtime: 114 min
IMDb Rating: 6.7
Rotten Tomatoes: 55%
Metacritic: 49

Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci are one of the most in-demand writing duos in the movie industry nowadays, thanks mostly for what they did with the first two Transformers films which obviously made a ton of cash, J.J. AbramsStar Trek reboot from 2009, which also made a ton of cash and was actually a pretty amazing movie, too. So, yeah, from those credentials, plus the fact that they’re also the guys behind TV’s Fringe and the Hawaii Five-0 reboot, you can see why they’re the ones people go to for big-budget action-packed extravaganzas.

Well, now they’ve written a new film, this time as a trio with newcomer Jody Lambert, and the film actually also serves as the directorial debut from Mr. Kurtzman. The catch, however, is that People Like Us is as far as you can imagine from the usual fare that the duo puts out. This is a film that’s just absolutely adult-oriented, one of those films that’s concerned with conversation, with complex adult emotions and that doesn’t have a single robot, alien or big explosion in it.

You have Chris Pine as one of those fast-talking salesman who one day learns that his father has died, and has to go home to help put his affairs in order, and there he finds out that he has inherited a large sum of money. What he could have never anticipated however, is that his father has set that money to be shared between himself and a sister he never knew he had, played by Elizabeth Banks. So of course the film will then be all about seeing how Sam’s relationship with this new sister, Frankie, progresses, and about how he reassess his family and his own personal life in the process.

Now, for one reason or another, I’ve always actually been kind of interested about this project. I liked the cast, I liked the idea, and even though the story did seem like it could so easily venture into some dangerously sappy territory, when I saw the first trailer for the film I actually thought this could wind up being a pretty solid character piece. And, well, I was just half-right. The screenplay, though again I must praise it for concerning itself with real adult themes and emotions, is actually kind of melodramatic at times, and it feels too artificial at some others, so I couldn’t delve into the story. But the performances here make up for it, and they do some of that good character exploration I was looking forward to.

The thing is, I don’t think the payoff was that great here. I mean, you have Sam learning that his estranged father, who was a legendary music producer, passed away. Jetting off home with his girlfriend, played by Olivia Wilde, to his old place, be greeted by his mother, played by the timeless Michelle Pfeiffer, and the news about this new sister. He of course concocts a “chance” encounter to meet her, at an AA meeting, finding out that she’s a recovering alcoholic, and that she has a young son, and he starts warming up to them as he gets to know them.

The payoff of this movie depends on two things, for Sam not to be greedy and keep the money to himself like he could have, and for him to tell Frankie the truth. The thing is, there’s only so much you can do with that to hold us there. I mean, yes, we are given many reasons as to why Sam may not want to divulge the secret and keep the money, and we know that he’ll eventually tell her the truth with about twenty minutes to go until the movie ends and complete the transformation from an at-times douchey, unlikeable guy to a man that does the respectable thing by family. But to build a whole movie about waiting for a guy to tell one simple secret can grow old pretty fast.

These are good characters, I liked them, I thought they felt like totally dimensional creations, and yet the fact that their existence depended entirely upon that one thing kind of disallowed me to connect with them more times than once. This could have been a very smart and rather moving little film with great performances, and it could have really worked for me, but I wanted more, I wanted the secret to be out way sooner and for the film and these actors to then explore and face these new facts.

That just never happens though, so because of that I can’t really recommend this film. I liked the performances, I thought Chris Pine brought a lot to the role, and this is one of the best performances I’ve ever seen of him, if not the best, just as much because of what he does with this particular role as it was because of the promise I thought he showed for the future. Elizabeth Banks, an actress I really like, is also damn fine here. And the supporting turns by Ms. Pfeiffer, Ms. Wilde and the ubiquitous Mark Duplass (this year’s Jessica Chastain?) are all very good. I just couldn’t get over that one small bump to really get myself invested.

The film is totally set up for you to get invested though, there are many times in which it’s clear that Mr. Kurtzman wants you to cry, and maybe that’s also something that turned me off. I’m actually a guy that cries easily in films, but I cry when the film deserves it, when it happens organically, not when it gets all over my face and tells me to do so. This film’s every move is totally calculated, and not that much instinct-based or organic, maybe a trait Mr. Kurtzman picked up from working on that many blockbusters, and it got me to disengage from People Like Us.

Grade: C+


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