Breaking News Bar
updated: 6/28/2012 1:22 PM

'People' proves impatient but pleasant family drama

hello
Success - Article sent! close
  • Sam (Chris Pine) grows closer to the sister and nephew (Elizabeth Banks and Michael Hall D'Addario) he never knew he had in "People Like Us."

      Sam (Chris Pine) grows closer to the sister and nephew (Elizabeth Banks and Michael Hall D'Addario) he never knew he had in "People Like Us."

  • Video: "People Like Us" trailer

 
By Jake Coyle
Associated Press

"People Like Us" is that increasingly rare kind of film: an adult drama. The filmmakers seem so nervous about this prospect that they fill the movie with action-film editing and a camera that moves so restlessly through domestic life that you'd think it lost its keys.

At one point, I was sure the dramatic opening of a door was going to reveal a Klingon, not complicated memories of a deceased parent.

That's not a coincidence: "People Like Us" is directed by Alex Kurtzman, who co-wrote the script with Roberto Orci (along with Jody Lambert). Kurtzman and Orci are the same duo that wrote the 2009 "Star Trek" reboot, as well as the blockbusters "Mission: Impossible III" and "Transformers," and the TV series "Alias" and "Fringe."

If, in their knack for suspense, they imbue "People Like Us" with impatience, they also keep it entertaining, rendering a familiar, heart-rending melodrama as a gauzy and mostly pleasant diversion.

Sam (Chris Pine, who played Capt. Kirk in "Star Trek") is a slick New York deal-maker, specializing in bartering excess goods between companies. But trouble (and a federal trade investigation) loom after he ruins a shipment of tomato soup by skimping on transportation. His emotional remove is clear when his girlfriend, Hannah (the striking but underused Olivia Wilde), informs him that his father has died, and he replies: "What's for dinner?"

Hannah drags Sam to the Los Angeles funeral, where his mother (Michelle Pfeiffer) greets him with both a hard slap to the face and directions to the linens. It's a rare return home for Sam, who ignored his mother during his dad's illness and harbors a long-festering anger for his uninterested father, a 1960s record producer.

The lawyer executing the will (Philip Baker Hall) informs Sam that he's inherited his father's extensive vinyl collection, with the advice to, "Get your groove back." He's also given a shaving kit stuffed with $150,000 and instructions to give it to an unfamiliar name: Josh Davis.

The reveal is that Sam's father had a secret, second family -- a daughter, Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), and her sarcastic mop-head 11-year-old, Josh (Michael Hall D'Addario). She's a recovering alcoholic working as a bartender and trying desperately to keep their lives together, a feat made harder by Josh's troublemaking at school.

Sam first shadows Frankie and after a few encounters, he quickly becomes a close friend to Frankie and Josh. He's reluctant to confess their shared father or bequeath the money, a suspense prolonged artificially.

"People Like Us" (a generically meaningless title) owes much of its charm to Banks. She enters the film like a powerhouse, striding in heels and a black mini-skirt to the principal's office to pick up her son, while chastising a pair of ogling students: "I know your mothers," she says. As a working single mom, she plays Frankie as heavy with the bitterness of being abandoned by her absent father.

There's little reason Banks shouldn't be a top star in Hollywood: She's funny, sexy and sharp. The movies haven't always lived up to her talent -- TV's "30 Rock" is still the best example of her capabilities.

Pine is a more standard protagonist, with a handsome if bland swagger. Still, he keeps the film grounded. The weakest hinge is Pfeiffer, who has little motherly chemistry with Pine and whose character feels underwritten.

"People Like Us" is partly based on the life of Kurtzman, whose father was Dennis Lambert, a producer for the Commodores and others. The film, Kurtzman's directorial debut, is too shiny and drenched in California glow to feel very personal. It grows increasingly sentimental, and by the end, lays it on especially thick.

Share

Interested in reusing this article?

Custom reprints are a powerful and strategic way to share your article with customers, employees and prospects.

The YGS Group provides digital and printed reprint services for Daily Herald. Complete the form to the right and a reprint consultant will contact you to discuss how you can reuse this article.

Need more information about reprints? Visit our Reprints Section for more details.

Contact information ( * required )

Name * Company Telephone * E-mail *

Message (optional)

Success - Reprint request sent Click to close
Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.
    help here