L.A. Film Fest Review: "People Like Us" Is Emotional And Real
“So few movies are being made like this at studios,” Kurtzman said, addressing the packed L.A. Live theater.
The film--which took nearly eight years to write and is loosely based on Kurtzman’s own discovery of a half-sibling--focuses on an overarching message of the importance of family.
Sam Harper (Chris Pine) is a business trade negotiator—a “facilitator” in corporate barter, as he says—who begrudgingly returns to L.A. after he learns of his father’s death. During his visit he discovers his father saved $150,000 over the years and that he had left the money to him. At least, it seemed that way. Sam quickly learns that the much-needed funds are meant for someone else: his half-sister Frankie and her son, Josh.
While Sam had issues with his parents and was estranged from both his father and his mother, Lillian (Michelle Pfeiffer), Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) had a much harder life. Not only did her father leave her when she was young, she spent most of her adult life abusing alcohol losing herself in a host of meaningless one-night stands. Her messy lifestyle led to an unplanned pregnancy, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and a dead-end bartending job.
Sam manipulates his way into Frankie’s life, becoming a father figure to his nephew and a close friend to his sister. The question of when he will break the news of the true nature of their relationship looms for most of the film.
This melodramedy is remarkably well-acted, giving the screenplay the weight it needs. Pine gives a powerful performance as Sam, starting him off as an unlikeable golden boy who is a bit too full of himself.
This quickly changes as Pine peels back each character layer, and soon the audience cannot help but sympathize with a man who has endured a cold upbringing and spent his life combatting the residual effects.
As Frankie, Banks demonstrates her ability to vacillate between the dramatic and comedic. She handles playing a single mother to a rebellious son with grace; it is rewarding to watch as she slowly lets us in and opens up to Sam.
But perhaps the most satisfying performance is that of Michael Hall D’Addario as Josh, the sarcastic little boy who covers up his pain with biting wit and intelligence. His comedic timing, the depth of his portrayal and the vulnerability he manages to show on-screen are a welcome and refreshing surprise.
Dialogue can often feel contrived or forced, yet the mélange of sadness, wit and exasperation that compose the script comes off as effortless—even with an 11-year-old spewing out a host of profanities.
“People Like Us” uses a keen editing eye, as it deftly paces each scene to set the mood. A few scenes that involve Sam driving away in his cherry red classic may seem excessive in their edits, but they ultimately help set the pace and tone.
Each of these dramatic cuts—set to the tune of rock and roll classics and A.R. Rahman’s score—demonstrates the urgency of the moment and the unrelenting necessity for Sam to get away from the problems surrounding him.
As mentioned before, what hangs above the audience’s head is that Sam has to tell Frankie the truth. There are only so many ways this can go. That predictability may lose some viewers, but for those who take the time to truly watch and become invested in the characters, the attachment will carry until the very end. What follows is a heart-wrenching conclusion that is so genuine it avoids becoming corny.
For the filmgoer who wants to take a breather from the typical summer Blockbuster, “People Like Us” is a refreshing change from the escapist movies that make up this film season. It is an illustration of how dirty and ugly life can get (and how our moral compass can become just as filthy in the process), but it is just as much a testament to the importance of family and our ability to overcome obstacles we once thought impossible.