These “People” pull off a great family drama
As the title suggests, “People Like Us” has a story that could be quite relatable even though it is also the type of family drama dealing with thorny relationship issues that Hollywood normally shies away from. And speaking of departures, first time director Alex Kurtzman who has written blockbusters like the “Star Trek” re-boot and “Transformers,” this time around takes a page from his personal life and produces one of the more effectively heart wrenching scripts in recent memory. The term “inspired by true events” often rings hollow. But not here.
Chris Pine is Sam, a fast talking barter “facilitator” in New York who is deep in debt when he gets the call that his estranged father, an occasionally successful rock producer has died. Reluctantly he and supportive girlfriend Hannah (Olivia Wilde) fly out to L.A. to a chilly reception by Sam’s mom (Michelle Pfeiffer) who lives in the famous hills of the Laurel Canyon area of the Valley. His father’s attorney (great character actor Philip Baker Hall) delivers a message from Sam’s Dad – track down a kid and give him a large sum of money with no more explanation than that.
In the process, Sam will learn the kid is the son of a half-sister, recovering alcoholic, bartender Frankie, (Elizabeth Banks) and while the film’s primary contrivance requires him to wait seemingly forever before informing her of their being siblings – the sum of money involved, the potential for emotional fireworks, along with some great performances keeps us more than compelled during the journey.
The script (other writers include Roberto Orci, and Jody Lambert) rarely feels forced and even though we’re hoping for a happy resolution there are plenty of twists along the way including a powerhouse ending that comes as a surprise.
Featuring Pine’s (the aforementioned “Star Trek”) best work to date – he pulls off the slimy but likeable salesman who can still credibly give music advice to the grandson in question, Josh (Michael Hall D’Addario nailing his film debut) who himself is quite a smart aleck and has some troubles of his own in middle school. Pfeiffer is also just right as the former 70’s groupie who is bitter over her husbands’ shortcomings and Sam’s inattentiveness after taking flight in his teens.
But the rock here is Banks, who as Frankie was not just hurt, but practically disowned by her late Father and still carries the scars. The story has potential for hand-wringing melodrama or sappy shortcutting but for the most avoids both. (A few scenes Sam spends binging while listening to his Dad’s sumptuous vinyl collection, feel a little belabored).
“People Like Us” examines the costs of broken, fatherless relationships in subtle but direct ways. Yet it is not a downer of a movie, nor is it superficially cheery. Credit the writers and director who clearly for personal reasons wanted to get it right, and got the perfect cast to do it.
Rated PG-13 for language, some drug use, and brief sexuality.