Chris Pine and Elizabeth Banks in "People Like Us"
People Like Us
Solid writing and strong performances by leads Chris Pine and Elizabeth Banks propel "People Like Us" from a maudlin drama to a memorable one. The character-driven story is a welcome respite from the barrage of visual effects slamming into theaters of late.
It's somewhat ironic considering director Alex Kurtzman -- making his feature debut -- has a record of writing and producing action-oriented television shows like "Alias" and "Fringe." And although "People" is at times emotionally manipulative and saccharine to a fault, the picture's family dynamics come across as sincere and compelling.
New York-based businessman Sam Harper (Pine) reluctantly travels back home to Los Angeles when he gets word that his absentee father has passed away. Sam, facing legal and financial troubles in the Big Apple, is greeted coldly by his mother (Michelle Pfeiffer, aging gracefully), who has clearly grown weary of Sam's penchant for running away from problems.
The attorney for his father's estate informs Sam that he has been bequeathed his dad's impressive record collection and a weathered bag, which he is to deliver to working mom Frankie (Banks) and her son Josh (Michael Hall D'Addario), strangers to Sam. When Sam realizes the bag contains $150,000 in cash, he is tempted to keep the money, and elects to surreptitiously learn more about its intended recipients. Sam quickly discovers that he and Frankie have more in common than he imagined.
Pine and Banks shine in their challenging roles and prove they have more thespian depth than people might realize. Pine is a charismatic natural; his character's journey from selfish to selfless is believable throughout. Banks delivers her dialogue perfectly -- it isn't so much what she says but how she says it that makes her character so genuine (and likable). And Pfeiffer serves up yet another stellar performance, reminding us why she has become something of a cinematic icon.
In the film, Sam's dad was a record producer, and the movie's excellent soundtrack (including tunes from Bob Dylan, The Clash and others) highlights the musical undertones. The pacing does lag at times, and watching "People" after swigging a tablespoon of Nyquil is not recommended. The sentimentality proves a tad draining by the time the end credits roll (the definition of a "tearjerker"), and the script could have done with a bit more laugh-out-loud humor.
Ultimately, though, the cast and an honest foundation make "People" well worth watching.
Rated PG-13 for brief sexuality, some drug use and language. 1 hour, 55 minutes.
- Tyler Hanley