People Like Us
Directed by: Alex Kurtzman Cast: Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks, Michael Hall D'Addario, Olivia Wilde, Michelle Pfeiffer Running Time: 1 hr 55 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: June 29, 2012
PLOT: A young slimy salesman (Pine) returns home to California to bury his estranged father. Before he leaves he's given a shaving kit with $150,000 inside it, along with instructions for the money to be delivered to the nephew (D'Addario), and sister played by Banks, he never knew existed.
WHO'S IT FOR?: This wannabe feel-good blockbuster is made for the same mainstream crowds that have seen co-writer/director Alex Kurtzman's previous stories, which include Star Trek, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and Cowboys and Aliens.
EXPECTATIONS: Though I've seen plenty from both lead actor Chris Pine and writer/director Alex Kurtzman, all expectations seemed to change once I caught wind that this was actually a drama. Would Pine be strong enough for a non-action role? How would Kurtzman fare with a story that doesn't involve science fiction?
Chris Pine as Sam: We're introduced to Sam as if he were one of Tom Cruise's slicker characters. Sam is always handsome, and always making the wrong decision. As the story progresses, with Sam wrestling for a long time about whether to tell his new Frankie the truth, he becomes a strange guardian angel. The drama is largely steered by Pine's presence, which is fine, even if the script complicates his emotional itinerary. Score: 5
Elizabeth Banks as Frankie: As the beaten down deleted sibling of Sam, Banks provides some solid emotion as Frankie, and unleashes heavy face waterworks with great timing in the third act. In the end, the most successful element of the entire People Like Us package is probably Banks' performance, as she inspires us to wish we could feel this movie (although the script itself says otherwise). Score: 6
Rest of Cast: In a decent child actor performance, Michael Hall D'Addario plays Frankie's son, a young boy caught in the middle of drama that could make or break his understandings of the importance of family. Playing the tooled-around girlfriend of Sam, Olivia Wilde peeks into the movie when she is needed to provide some type of wisdom to her mostly irresponsible boyfriend. In other parts of the movie, she's practically a ghost. Michelle Pfeiffer has a few scenes in the film as Sam's mother, in which she's best when displaying cold emotion over anything. The script tries to give her a secret of her own, but we immediately put it towards the bottom of emotional priority considering the tall stack of dilemmas in this story. Score: 5
TALKING: Despite its potential to be so, (considering the amount of fights, etc.) the dialogue doesn't have obvious cheese. Instead, People Like Us gets clunky when it gorges on big confrontations between characters, which often become turn into underwhelming shouting matches. Score: 5
SIGHTS: Looking like a sci-fi blockbuster without the lens flares, People Like Us is constantly brightened by California sunlight. In a strange moment of product placement, the characters randomly use personal cameras (of which we casually see the POV of) to capture a hunky dory moment of eating lobsters. And though this movie rarely has any special effects, it does sneak in (but not really) a snazzy vintage car for Pine to loudly cruise in throughout the movie. Score: 6
SOUNDS: The People Like Us soundtrack uses songs like "Spanish Bombs" by The Clash to compliment its band name-dropping script, which mentions groups like Television and The Buzzcocks. Going alongside a score by A.R Rahman (the maestro behind from Slumdog Millionaire), the only performer really featured on the actual soundtrack is Liz Phair, with a generic sounding "Na-na-na-na" song called "Dotted Line." Score: 5
BEST SCENE: Aside from seeing Banks' tear-filled face towards the end of the third act, I felt the most from People Like Us when I laughed along with the moment in which Pine tells the young kid not to steal from a record store; "It's like kicking a dead man."
ENDING: She actually takes the money, because, well, duh. And oh yeah, Mark Duplass is in this movie too.
REWATCHABILITY: People Like Us doesn't offer a strong amount of anything to warrant a completely desirable second viewing. After this movie plays out once, there just isn't much left to return to.
Mark Duplass, star of recently-praised smaller movies like Safety Not Guaranteed and Your Sister's Sister, concludes his domination of the June movie marquees when he briefly pokes in and out of People Like Us. Though he plays a small role as Ted (the neighbor of Frankie who doesn't have a comb in his bathroom), his small presence is a playful reminder of the other, more organic way in which this unique story could have been told. A unique true life experience that actually happened to Kurtzman (his sister randomly introduced herself to him one day, according to the press notes), such an event seems like it would particularly benefit from a much more finite focus. Instead, the dysfunctional dilemmas are piled on top of one another in People Like Us, so that this family drama can play out like an emotional action movie where rows of explosions are swapped for shouting matches (and in turn, "feelgood" resolutions). In an attempt to keep mainstream audiences who are used to such over-the-top blockbuster storytelling on board, this movie bloats itself with unnecessary surprises and tensions between all characters.
With a lot more experience in fantasy than reality, Kurtzman is trying to reign in his impulses to an emotional core, "something something family," but seems to be deceived by the expensive ambitions that have paid off in the past. Even this movie's title is dramatically misguided. These Hollywood-ized events would be exaggerated moments in the eyes of the people that this film claims to know.
FINAL SCORE: 4/10