“People Like Us”
Susan Granger’s review of “People Like Us” (DreamWorks Pictures/Disney)
Fast-talking Sam Harper (Chris Pine) is an East Coast trade negotiator who discovers the delivery of his latest bartering deal is under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission on the same day he learns that his music-producer father has died in Los Angeles. Reluctantly returning to home with his supportive girl-friend Hannah (Olivia Wilde), Sam conveniently arrives after the funeral, further infuriating his estranged mother Lillian(Michelle Pfeiffer). Then the family lawyer hands him his father’s leather shaving kit containing $150,000 in cash that he’s supposed to deliver to a half-sister Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) that he never knew existed. A recovering alcoholic who regularly attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, Frankie is a stressed-out single mother with a troubled, precocious, adolescent son Josh (Michael Hall D’Addario), who is having rebellion problems in school.
What will Sam do? How will he explain this shared paternity to Frankie, his newly found nephew and his mother? Rather than immediately tackling the odious task of revelation, ambivalent Sam gradually insinuates himself into Frankie’s life by befriending Josh and promising to teach the boy six important life-lessons, leaving us wondering when he’ll finally reveal the truth. Meanwhile, it becomes obvious that while Frankie bitterly resents having been abandoned by her father, Sam realizes that this same father was barely around for him either…until an unexpected explanation is revealed.
Scripting with his long-time production collaborator Robert Orci and screenwriter Jody Lambert, novice director Alex Kurtzman (“Cowboys and Aliens,” TV’s “Fringe” and “Alias”) tackles this superficially suspenseful, if occasionally exasperating, character-driven drama/comedy, dissecting a contrived dilemma that’s loosely based on his own family history, finding out that he had a half-sister from his father’s other marriage.
Superbly cast Chris Pine (“Star Trek,” “Unstoppable”), Elizabeth Banks (“The Hunger Games,” “Man on a Ledge”), Michelle Pfeiffer (“Dark Shadows”), Olivia Wilde and Michael Hall D’Addario delve into the poignant desperation of their characters, delivering far more emotional naturalism than the script delineates.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “People Like Us” is a simplistic, sentimental 7, an unexpectedly soapy sibling story.