To say Hollywood has completely got a handle on what life is like for people like us would be a long stretch. While some may still think that cookie-cutter plots and predictable endings are what audiences today expect to see, I find that these types of movies merely undercut the intellect of the audience, and hole us up into ruts of simple, boring, and ultimately overdone Hollywood crap. Fortunately for the perhaps boldly titled People Like Us, this somewhat formulaic story manages to bypass this rut just slightly, and satisfies the audience by way of its underlying rawness and emotional validity.
People Like Us is a movie inspired by real events, and shares an inspiring story of family, love, and life. Corporate climber Sam (Chris Pine) receives the shocking news that he has a sister (Elizabeth Banks) whom he never knew existed until his father’s passing. What is even more shocking is the blunt note left by his father Jerry, instructing Sam to deliver $150,000 cash to the woman’s son (Michael Hall D’Addario). Feelings of shock, betrayal, and confusion initially cloud Sam’s mind; but, as he gets to know this woman he has just met, his initial feelings change, leaving his the task of re-examining his feelings and perspectives on his father, family, life, and the importance of each.
What shortchanged the power of this movie was the somewhat incongruous storyline. While the main plot remained constant, driving, and fluid, the subplots felt out of sorts, and didn’t achieve anything substantial. One example of this is the inclusion of the character of Sam’s girlfriend, Hannah (Olivia Wilde). The only reason this subplot was introduced was to remind us that the relationship between Frankie and Sam was platonic and familial, not romantic. This would have been fine, except that we are given a reasonable introduction to Hannah’s character, and then she just disappears for the majority of the movie, only to reappear when convenient. It would have been just as beneficial to leave her character out, or to find a better way to blend her character into the plot.
Surprisingly enough, the characters round out what could have been a terribly flat, one-dimensional story, and give it the life it deserved. Business barterer Sam (Pine) starts off as a schmoozy corporate jerkwad, whose only goal in life seemed to be the almighty dollar. Much of his behavior is confusing, as he takes a lost bonus and probing FTC investigation harder than the death of his father. When he becomes aware of the mystery sister who was hidden from him for the last twenty-some years, things in his life begin to spiral out of control. Still, the presence of Frankie and Josh in his life begin to change his perspective on life, love, trust, and family. Frankie, though seriously messed up in her own ways, brings a sense of balance to Sam’s life, like the missing piece to a puzzle. Their relationship experiences a series of ups and downs, but their shared connection completes them in a way.
What really makes this movie worth seeing is the truly compelling display of emotion provided by the individual acting talent, as well as their substantial on-screen chemistry. Their understanding of their characters and their relationships, and the effort to give them such definitive authenticity makes the holes in the plot slightly less recognizable, though not completely forgivable.
I’m sure everyone is tired of hearing how much I love Elizabeth Banks, but in all seriousness, her acting warrants the praise. Frankie has some serious baggage – the product of a love affair eventually neglected by her father, an extensive drug and alcohol addiction, an unexpected pregnancy with no knowledge of the father – you name it, she’s experienced it. Still, Banks presents a well-rounded woman; a little rough around the edges, but yearning for something or someone to make her life not better, but whole – more complete. There is something strikingly unusual in Banks’ range – being fluid enough to present a variety of realistic human emotion, both dramatic and comedic – that gives her a sincerity and reliability that many actors don’t possess. Her ability to connect with her character, the other actors onscreen, and the audience whose attention is fixed with her seemingly tangible honesty, is a trifecta that is sure to grant her continued success in the future.
I can’t say I’ve ever been a huge fan of Michelle Pfeiffer’s acting. She always seems so stiff and unapproachable, which doesn’t always translate well on screen. In this case, in her role as Sam’s mom Lillian, this cold, off-putting shell works for her, as she struggles with the death of her husband, the return of her barely-there son, and the acceptance and admittance of wrongdoings.
Chris Pine shows a definite maturity in his role as Sam. So many unfavorable characteristics weigh down his character; however, he has the wherewithal to give his character the depth needed to produce the progression and eventual evolution that was so desperately needed to round out the journey of Sam and his family.
Another great performance was given by Michael Hall D’Addario, who shines as Frankie’s misunderstood son Josh. Though his character might seem like the stereotypical middle-school twerp (constantly in trouble), Josh (to Frankie, “Monkey”) truly has a heart of gold, and a quick mind. His interactions with Sam are heartfelt, and certainly resonate with the audience both on a humorous note, and one of true empathy.
Other familiar faces include Olivia Wilde, who plays Sam’s girlfriend Hannah – a fairly blasé role for Wilde, but she gets the job done nonetheless, and Mark Duplass as Frankie’s all-too-eager neighbor.
Truly, this movie does not have everything going for it. Still, I think that it was quite enjoyable, if not merely for the acting, also for the genuineness that encompasses the movie as a whole. Sure, the plot feels a little overdone in certain aspects, but it still makes for a heartfelt story, no matter how you look at it. It probably won’t gain huge box office success with Magic Mike releasing this weekend, but it’s certainly something to consider making time for in the weeks to come.
People Like Us – 7.5/10