out of Five
Running time: 114
Engaging, enjoyable and unabashedly sentimental drama, enlivened by a strong script and tremendous performances from a superb cast.
What's it all about?
Co-written and directed by Alex Kurtzman (writer of Transformers, Star Trek and Cowboys & Aliens), People Like Us stars Chris Pine as smooth-talking, cash-strapped salesman Sam Harper, who's fired from his job when his latest deal brings the Federal Trade Commission down on his boss (a briefly cameoing Jon Favreau). When he discovers that his emotionally distant, music producer father has died, Sam reluctantly travels to Los Angeles for the funeral (after first trying to get out of it), with his girlfriend Hannah (Olivia Wilde) in tow and discovers that his father has left him a large amount of money to be secretly delivered to the sister he never knew he had.
Though he intends to keep the money for himself, Sam is nonetheless compelled to investigate and discovers that his sister is ex-alcoholic waitress Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), who has a trouble-prone 11 year old son (Michael Hall D'Addario as Josh). As Sam gradually befriends both Frankie and Josh, his inability to tell them the truth causes friction with Hannah, while he also struggles to keep the secret from his mother, Lillian (Michelle Pfeiffer).
Elizabeth Banks is terrific as Frankie (in a perfect world, this would land her an Oscar nomination), delivering an emotionally engaging performance that lets you see both her quick-witted defence mechanisms and her inner vulnerability; it's particularly heartbreaking watching her falling for Sam, unaware of the secret he's keeping. Pine is equally good as Sam, managing to maintain our sympathy even though he does some pretty unappealing things early on; he also generates strong, likeable chemistry with Banks, Wilde and young D'Addario.
There's also superb support from Michelle Pfeiffer, though Wilde is rather under-used, as is Mark Duplass as Frankie's clearly smitten downstairs neighbour (it's hard not to believe his part was larger at the script stage). In addition, the dialogue is excellent and Kurtzman nails the story's important emotional moments.
There's nothing inherently wrong with either clichés or sentimentality if both are marshalled correctly and Kurtzman proves himself an adept manipulator of both, saving the biggest hit for a tear-inducing climax that admittedly slightly out-stays its welcome. Other than that, the only real problem with the film is the central contrivance, as it's never really adequately explained why Sam can't just tell Frankie the truth, especially after he makes his decision regarding the money.
People Like Us is a well made, emotionally engaging drama with a strong script and terrific performances from a superb cast. Worth seeing.