Friday, June 29, 2012
Movie review: People Like Us
Odd family drama fumbles in tricky territory.
People Like Us has to be the most bizarre mainstream drama to come out of Hollywood since Seven Pounds. It’s not nearly as off-the-wall as that Will Smith misfire, but both films focus on altruistic liars and the havoc they wreak by harboring a deep secret.
The liar in this case is Chris Pine, a matinee idol who seems one challenge away from being a legitimately great actor. He plays Sam, a hot-shot salesman working in something called “corporate barter,” which isn’t, in the strictest terms, legal. He just made a killer commission on some tire overstock, but his boss is holding it to pay off his screw-up.
Then he gets word his father — a semi-famous record producer in L.A. — has died. He lies about not getting the call from his mom (Michelle Pfeiffer). He doesn’t seem sympathetic when his girlfriend (Olivia Wilde) takes it hard. And he fakes losing his ID so he’ll miss the flight. He’s not winning us over.
When this bro finally gets to L.A., he misses the funeral, lies about having to get back early, then gets pissed when he finds out his dad only left him his records and no money. Turns out someone else did. The recipient of $150,000 is someone named Josh. The cash is packed in a shaving kit, with a note to Sam: “Take care of them.”
Instead of calling this guy up, he stalks him and his mom. Josh is actually an 11-year-old troublemaker and victim of bullying (because every kid in a movie these days has to be a victim of bullying). His single mom Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) is a bartender at a trendy hotel. Sam follows her to AA where he learns she’s his long-lost half-sister.
Instead of just introducing himself as her half-brother — because then the movie would be over — he pretends to be a fellow ex-addict and weaves his way into her life, even giving Josh a music education that includes The Clash and Television (at least he’s got good taste).
But here’s where the movie takes an odd turn. As Sam gets to know Frankie, writer-director Alex Kurtzman (taking a step back from his usual sci-fi blockbusters) frames their meetings like a romantic comedy, which gives everything an ickiness that’s hard to shake. Since Frankie has no idea they’re related, she falls hard for him, which makes Sam’s inevitable revelation that much heavier.
In the meantime, Sam becomes less of a jerk, making amends with his mom even while he’s under investigation from the Federal Trade Commission for that screw-up he made at work. These are all added stakes to a movie that doesn’t really need them.
People Like Us makes for an interesting departure, not just for the summer season, but for the cast and director. Too bad it comes off as creepy instead of endearing.
For showtimes for People Like Us, click here.