Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci are some of the most influential people in Hollywood, having made names for themselves writing shows like “Alias” and “Fringe” and writing and producing big-budget blockbusters like Transformers, Star Trek, and Cowboys & Aliens. But People Like Us, Kurtzman’s directorial debut, is a much more reserved film than those previous credits would indicate. It’s a surprisingly dramatic film about sacrifice, humility, and family, and it provides an excellent alternative to the high concept plots of many of today’s romantic comedies.
Sam (Chris Pine) is a fast-talking, self-centered New York businessman who works high-end deals for a company run by Jon Favreau. When his estranged father dies, Sam and his girlfriend Hannah (Olivia Wilde) head to Los Angeles for the funeral, but Sam’s main interest is not in grieving or spending time with his mother (Michelle Pfeiffer), but in retrieving his inheritance. He’s perplexed to discover that his dad left him $150,000 in cash along with instructions to give it to Sam’s sister Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) and her 12-year-old son, neither of whom Sam knew existed.
There’s a fine line between drama and melodrama, but this movie operates equally well on both sides of that line, never becoming so overblown that it loses its emotional truth. The screenplay feels refreshingly personal and treats the brother-sister relationship with a sort of reverence that’s rarely seen on film. We really feel for these characters, and though Sam is an insufferable ass in the beginning, his arc feels absolutely earned every step of the way. The mother-son relationship between Elizabeth Banks and Michael Hall D’Addario is terrific, and though D’Addario occasionally slips into being a bit too precocious, it’s solid work from a child actor (a rare compliment, coming from someone who generally despises roles like this).
With People Like Us, Chris Pine boldly goes where he’s never gone before, pushing himself out of the action spotlight and firmly down a career path similar to someone like Brad Pitt. If he’s not quite A-list yet, he’s well on his way. Michelle Pfeiffer, who was passable in the recent Dark Shadows, has some of the quietest and also most explosive moments in this movie, and is convincing and effective in both. But the real breakout star might be Banks, who has never been better. Her recovering alcoholic character runs the gamut of emotion and she pulls them all off with equal aplomb. She’s infectious, and her work in this movie will be a calling card for future opportunities.
I do have a few tiny qualms with the movie – it takes Sam far too long to tell Frankie the truth about their scenario, Olivia Wilde’s character is sidelined for a while and then comes back in a cliche way, etc. – the heartwarming moments and great performances are enough to wash them away. Call it 2012’s best anti-romcom: People Like Us is a moving film filled with excellent performances that’s unapologetically made for adults (you know…people like us). Until next time…