- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Walt Disney
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
he last thing that anyone expected from the guys behind such sci-fi fare like “Transformers,” J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” reboot, and the Fox series “Fringe” was a small, adult drama, but that’s exactly what they’ve delivered with “People Like Us.” Co-written by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Jody Lambert, and marking the former’s directorial debut, the movie takes a relatively implausible premise (although it's supposedly based on true events) and manages to make it more enjoyable than it probably deserves to be thanks to some solid performances by its cast. It’s funny to think that a movie about a talking teddy bear isn’t the most far-fetched film being released in theaters this week, but as long as you’re willing to suspend disbelief, “People Like Us” might surprise you.
The film stars Chris Pine as Sam, a “corporate facilitator” living in New York with his law student girlfriend Hannah (Olivia Wilde) when he’s dragged back home to Los Angeles upon the death of his estranged father, a semi-successful record producer and A&R man who, as we're reminded numerous times, wasn’t a very good dad. When he meets with the family lawyer to discuss the will, however, Sam is surprised to learn that the only thing bequeathed to him is a record collection. Meanwhile, his father has left behind a shaving kit filled with $150,000 and instructions for Sam to deliver it to a woman named Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), who happens to be the half-sister he never knew existed. Conflicted about how to break the news, Sam begins to spend time with Frankie and her son Josh (Michael Hall D’Addrio), which only serves to complicate matters further.
Though Kurtzman is quick to squash the chance of any accidental incestual romance occurring between the two of them à la Luke and Leia, that unnerving feeling never quite goes away because Frankie remains in the dark for so much of the film. Some movies have that one line of dialogue that, if spoken, would instantly wash away all the conflict and drama, and in “People Like Us,” it’s Sam telling Frankie that he's her brother. But that would be too simple. Instead, the audience is forced to watch as Sam drags out the inevitable, first stalking Frankie and Josh around LA, and then becoming so engrained in their daily lives that it’s not surprising when Frankie starts to develop feelings for him.
The film has a tendency to get a bit melodramatic at times, but for every contrived plot twist along the way, there’s an equally charming moment that'll make you smile, and the cast plays a big part in that. Chris Pine shows good range as the emotional recluse who must come to terms with the fact that his father wasn’t the World’s Greatest Dad, and newcomer Michael Hall D’Addario is a pleasant surprise as the rebellious boy in need of a father figure, but it’s Elizabeth Banks who delivers the strongest performance, effortlessly transitioning between the dramatic material and the lighter comedic beats.
For as great as the three actors may be, however, the rest of the cast (including Olivia Wilde and Mark Duplass as Frankie’s friendly neighbor/love interest) are wasted in smaller roles. Michelle Pfeiffer, in particular, has a few good scenes as Sam’s cagey mother, but it’s not really enough to create a fully developed character. "People Like Us" would have benefited greatly from spending less time on its exhausting main story and more with the characters hovering just outside of it, because although it does enough to counter its narrative flaws, the film is always one step away from completely unraveling.
Single-Disc Blu-ray Review:
For a small character drama, “People Like Us” has an awful lot of extras, including three separate audio commentary tracks: one with director Alex Kurtzman and actors Chris Pine and Elizabeth Banks; another with Kurtzman and co-writer Jody Lambert; and a select scene commentary with Kurtzman and Michelle Pfeiffer. If you didn’t figure it out by now, Alex Kurtzman likes to talk, and he does plenty more of it on the included making-of featurette. Rounding out the disc is a series of deleted and extended scenes with intros by Kurtzman, bonus footage from the taco truck scene, and a blooper reel.