Suave, motormouthed Sam (Chris Pine) works for a company that “barters” with organizations to do things that don’t matter in a mainstream Hollywood comedy, but make the main character look even more incredibly suave and impressive. One day, Sam receives a call that his estranged father has passed away. Reluctantly, he travels to attend the funeral with his girlfriend (Olivia Wilde). While there, he finds out that he has a long-lost sister, Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), that his father conceived from a different family, and that their dad has left $150,000 to Frankie’s son. Cue the waterworks as the different sides of the family clash, Sam’s mom (Michelle Pfeiffer) broods a lot, and holy SHIT I don’t even care what goes on in this stagnant drama.
In all seriousness though, the movie is very well-acted. Chris Pine shows that he can do more than punch people and delivers moments of relatively intense emotion. He has great chemistry with the three female leads, and does very well with switching gears between struggling boyfriend, awkward brother, and estranged son, juggling a broad range of emotions and delivering on all of them. Banks, Wilde, and Pfeiffer each play their parts well. Michelle Pfeiffer in particular does a great job, and her scenes were the most engaging to watch. Alex Kurtzman is already showing, in his directorial debut, that he is good at handling his actors.
People Like Us is one of those movies that follows every drama cliché and trademark to the finest detail. It’s as if writer/director Alex Kurtzman was carefully following a recipe as he put his film together. A hint of angst, just a dash of the main character being a fast-talking, self-absorbed prick—it’s all there. It’s one of those dramas where one could reasonably guess not only most of the major plot points, but most of the dialogue as well. For the record, I was wrong on only one of the plot points, and I had a perfect score with guessing the dialogue. It plays like the slickest of soap operas, gliding along with such squeaky cleanliness that its framework could be lifted and refitted onto almost anything else. The movie exists in that magical world where everyone can get places in the blink of an eye and show up to save the day. It’s like 24 without the terrorists, but some of the cookie cutter pieces of dialogue here could be considered war crimes in themselves.
I swear on my life that Mel Gibson had nothing to do with the selection of this image.
Sam predictably has his fallouts with literally every other main character in the story, but of course by the end everyone cries and makes up and solves world hunger with the power of family and love. Because of course they do. I mean, seriously, look at that poster. They’re all palling around like a family, having fun while the sun blasts in from the background. It does not get much more formulaic than that.
Talk about playing it safe. People Like Us pulls all of its punches, treading along very carefully so that not a single person is offended. It is a startlingly inconsequential film that rarely feels as though anything is at stake. You just know that everyone will be fine in the end, which doesn’t work in a film that’s supposed to be about the devastating effects a broken family can have on the children. The closest the film ever comes to discomfort is the fact that Frankie starts seriously falling for Sam, which forces him to tell her the truth.
There was a running prank on the IMDB forums for a while where a handful of members managed to convince the community that the film was about incest. In the film itself, this (thankfully) never happens, everyone ends up fine, and you don’t worry about anything at the end of the film, even though this is still a ridiculously dysfunctional family. Frankie, a recovering alcoholic, never gets any screen time for her addiction. There are plenty of scenes in the AA meetings, where Sam finds out she exists. But nothing ever comes of that. Frankie never relapses, and barely mentions anything about her problem, which kind of ruins the point of it being there, unless the filmmakers were trying to do…something…with the fact that she works at a bar. Sam’s mother has a heart condition, but nothing ever comes of that.
(At this point, I Googled “Carefree” and found out that it’s both a brand of gum and tampon. I then shut off my computer and went to bed.)
This movie is boring. Nothing ever happens. Twenty minutes into the film, Sam finds out he has a sister, and an hour later the plot finally inches forward. The rest of that space is filled with Sam hanging out with Frankie, developing a bond with her son, then there’s the big conflict where he tells her the secret, then a nice ending all wrapped up with a little bow. He takes forever to tell her that they’re blood related, only spilling the beans when she comes dangerously close to trying to sleep with him. The rest of it is painstakingly drawn-out montages of them hanging out, with the occasional bits of Sam being a jackass and arguing with his mother.
It’s incredibly anticlimactic, too, kind of just “ending” with little to show for it besides a little film reel that desperately scrabbles to put a lump in my throat, to no avail, while the rest of the plot is completely jettisoned. Here’s the problem with that: A semi-prevalent plot point involves Sam having soup shipped to Mexico on a train, which caused the soup to explode in the heat and thus violated Federal Trade Commission guidelines. Throughout the film, he gets angry calls from lawyers firing him and threatening to put him in jail, but nothing ever comes of this besides a brief reference to eventually fixing things. You can’t spend all of that time setting up such a serious plot line and then just drop it. To be fair, Sam’s girlfriend is Olivia Wilde and she’s training to be a lawyer, so I suppose I wouldn’t be as worried in that situation either.
No, I’m not ashamed of my love for Olivia Wilde. Why do you ask?
People Like Us is remarkably average. There is absolutely nothing in the film that elevates it to being recommendable, nor is there anything that damns it to disaster status. Ask me in person what I thought of the film, and I’ll let out a long “ehhhhhh,” and clumsily try to explain how middle-of-the-road it is. Its mediocrity is difficult to properly describe. On the positive side, it shows a promising start for Alex Kurtzman. If he can write/find some more interesting material, he has a good future as a director. His debut is just too bland. In a way, that’s the worst kind of movie. I can’t sing its praises, and I can’t laugh at how awful it is. I just…don’t…care. My only fear is that Kurtzman might try to make a sequel of them getting along as a family. Based on the Transformers sequels, that might be more of a threat than a promise.
Family gives Megatron a sad.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time Sam burns a bridge with someone.
Take a Drink: every time you want to reach through the screen and drop Frankie’s kid out of a moving car.
Take a Drink: every time you feel mildly creeped out at Frankie’s growing affection for Sam.
Do a Shot: for Catwoman.
Drink Some Shitty Wine: for having those thoughts about Michelle Pfeiffer. She’s old enough to be your grandmother!