By: Addison Wylie
Back when we all had a little bit more patience, it felt that films like People Like Us took up over half the screens at local movie theatres; most notably in the 90’s.
Come to think of it, here’s a perfect example. With all the film’s scenes featuring characters talking about favourable vintage music, People Like Us has a High Fidelity vibe going for it.
That’s not to say Alex Kurtzman’s film is dated or playing the same sheet music (pardon the pun). People Like Us is actually quite refreshing because we haven’t seen a talky family drama like this in a long time.
Chris Pine plays our lead Sam and shows audiences that he doesn’t necessarily have to be in big budget action films to prove he’s got a place in the acting world. Pine does a strong job portraying this fast talking, free wheeling personality and then knowing when to tone his attitude down.
In fact, the only moments when the actor enters into the realm of overacting is when Sam gets drunk and starts acting foolishly. His manners and facial expressions are what a deeply inebriated person would carry out but it’s almost too robust. The jumpy edits add to the drunken turmoil. However, in Pine’s defence, at least he’s showing that he’s interested in the material and wanting to show other, less prettier sides, to his troubled character.
And, boy, is he troubled. Not so much in a disturbed way but his estrangement from his family has taken its toll.
Sam returns to his home town soon after his Father’s funeral. His mother Lillian (played by Michelle Pfeiffer) has a bittersweet feeling of talking with Sam face-to-face. It’s hard for her to feel absolute joy when Sam’s tried so hard to distance himself away from his parents.
When Sam is told that his father left a package for his son, Sam’s ears perk up. He gets even more excited when he discovers that it contains $150,000 in cash. What he soon discovers is that the money isn’t for him, but for his nephew and his sister whom he has never met.
Pine does a fine job showing the struggles he has when he encounters his long lost sister Frankie (played by Elizabeth Banks). He isn’t sure how to introduce himself to her after finding out that Frankie resents Sam’s family, a group of people she never knew. Also, like Sam, Frankie isn’t a fan of their deceased Father. In order to make things run more comfortably, Sam introduces himself as a stranger to Frankie.
We feel for Pine and understand his complications but not to the fullest extent. When Sam is really struggling with his communication with Frankie and putting on a charade to get to know her more, we can’t help but wonder why Sam is burning so many calories.
Our patience runs thin after a while with Sam trying to keep up this schtick, and we can’t help but wonder why Sam wouldn’t reveal himself before he gets too deep to dig himself out. Instead, Sam continues being someone else which is where the movie finds its padding.
The film wins us back though. The acting is always top notch from all the players; from the more esteemed actors to young Michael Hall D’Addario who plays Frankie’s fatherless son.
The roles from everyone are so convincing that the emotion and competency that each actor holds is enough for us to look beyond those moments where the film is trying to buy more time between the siblings.
And, those scenes with Pine and Banks are really well directed. This is Kurtzman’s first full length feature which could easily fool the average movie goer. Kurtzman has done a great job recognizing each character, big and small, and figuring out a way to relay this information to his cast. Even supporting characters like Mark Duplass’ Ted and Phillip Baker Hall’s Ike Rafferty feel like the proper amount of time has been spent building that personality. These characters have the perfect amount of screen time.
People Like Us has not only emotionally driven acting, but, the story itself is very emotional as well. The script written by Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jody Lambert hits all the right notes when combining drama with a peppering of humor and sharp dialogue. The quips never feel over calculated and end up coming off as comments these characters would say to one another.
There are also unexpected scenes that’ll catch us off guard; including a final shot that appropriately wraps things up while tugging on our heartstrings. It’s proof that this is a really well written script.
It’s nice that a smaller, more reserved drama can still exist in the movie going world and not feel lesser than. People Like Us will be that movie that slides under a lot of radars but will catch lots of attention once it hits streaming platforms and rental outlets.
It’s going to be that movie that you’ll browse by, take a look at it, and wonder where this film came from. You’ll watch it and enjoy it mightily. When you recommend it to your friends, your buddies will say, “I saw that! That one surprised the hell out of me. Pine was good once again and this one didn’t even have Vulcans or runaway trains in it!” and it’ll be that movie that you and your friends will remember as that hidden gem that is worth seeking out. Kind of like a cinematic unknown sister.