People Like Us review

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Review Ron Hogan 2 Jul 2012 - 06:22

Alex Kurtzman directs Chris Pine and Olivia Wilde in the drama People Like Us. But does Ron like it? Here's his review...

Sam (Chris Pine) is a salesman with a wonderful girlfriend named Hannah (Olivia Wilde), a great job where he wheels and deals and barters stuff between companies for a profit, and things are going great. Well, except for a few minor details. Sam's in serious debt, he's in trouble with the FTC, and his father just died. So yeah, it's not all good, and after an attempt to avoid going to the funeral fails to pan out thanks to his meddling girl, he's off to Los Angeles to see to his grieving mother Lillian (Michelle Pfeiffer).

There's also the little matter of his father's inheritance. While the late Jerry was successful enough, he dropped a lot of money on his medical treatments and didn't leave much to his son aside from a record collection. There's also a shaving kit full of money, but that money's not for Sam. It's for Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) and her son Josh (Michael Hall D'Addario). They're Jerry's secret daughter and grandson, respectively.

That's a wrinkle Sam never expected. Now, there's a problem. Does Sam keep the money and bail himself out, or help out a single mother ex-addict with a life-changing sum of money? It's definitely a quandary, and in order to get to the bottom of whether or not Sam is worthy, he has to get to know her. Hence, the movie.

People Like Us is a wonderful film in a lot of ways. Young Michael Hall D'Addario is quite charismatic and has good comic timing (and provides the bulk of the laughs in the film). The adult actors are very good as well; Chris Pine makes a great selfish jerk with a heart of gold (which is why he's a great Captain Kirk). Ditto Elizabeth Banks, who brings her usual sense of humor to the role she's given, and is capable of handling the more emotional moments of the film without overdoing it.

Alex Kurtzman is a more-than-competent director in his first time out, though dramas don't require a ton of flash behind the camera. The movie moves with a nice flow from scene to scene, though it does occasionally seem a bit too static and seems to lag a bit towards the end after the big reveal. 

However, there's a fundamental flaw in People Like Us that I can't get past: the general plot.

The whole premise of the movie feels unnatural to me. The estranged father and son is fine; ditto the illegitimate daughter and estranged father. That the father might want to provide for his daughter after death is something I can also handle, but I absolutely cannot handle the way the script makes Sam dither and delay and screw around with Frankie's emotions. That just feels terribly unnatural to me, and it's a big stumbling block, if only because it feels like that Sam only delays his mission to give us a movie, not because it's something people do. (Maybe people do this, I don't know.)

That kind of colours the whole movie. The acting is great, the dialogue is usually very good, I like the child actor very much, and it's got some moments of levity. All that is to say that the movie has great components, but the final product is overpowered by the distinct problem at its core. The movie is inspired by true events in both Kurtzman and Roberto Orci's lives (Kurtzman, Orci, and Jody Lambert wrote the script) with estranged half-siblings and secret families, and while I'm sure that happens, how often do you have to deliver $150,000 to your half-sister?

When you can't get past a movie's one serious roadblock, it makes the rest of the movie look bad. I can step back enough to admit there's a lot to like about this melodrama, but it's still a melodrama at its heart, right down to the completely illogical actions taken by characters to further the plot. It's a decent watch in spite of its flaws, but People Like Us is far from a brilliant directorial debut.

US Correspondent Ron Hogan would love to give a secret relative an inheritance, albeit with a finder's fee taken out. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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