By Forrest Hartman
With “People Like Us,” writer-director Alex Kurtzman has crafted a compelling drama that speaks to the power of familial bonds, even when removed from a traditional setting. The movie focuses on Sam (Chris Pine), a smooth-talking salesman who had such a poor relationship with his father that he considers it an imposition when he’s called home for the man’s funeral. Nevertheless, he and his girlfriend, Hannah (Olivia Wilde), make the trek.
Upon arrival, Sam consoles his mother (Michelle Pfeiffer) and attempts to reconcile his bitter feelings toward his father. The process isn’t going well, and his dad’s attorney (Philip Baker Hall) makes things more complicated when he hands Sam a shaving kit filled with $150,000. The money isn’t, however, for Sam. There’s a note asking him to take care of the sister he never knew he had.
Shocked, Sam secretly gets to know the woman, a recovering alcoholic named Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) who is raising a son (Michael Hall D’Addario) on her own. Even more disappointed in his father, Sam must decide whether to pursue a relationship with his newfound sibling or take the money and run.
Pine is a fine young actor, and he anchors the film nicely, instilling Sam with subtle complexity. It helps that strong supporting players surround him. Banks, Pfeiffer and Wilde are solid throughout, making this particular family crisis seem plausible and real. Much credit is also due D’Addario, a young TV actor who maskes a great transition to the big screen.
Kurtzman co-wrote the screenplay with Roberto Orci and Jody Lambert, and they were able to keep the material relatively fresh despite the crowd of family dramas that have come before. To his credit, Kurtzman also moves the film at a pleasant pace, allowing the characters to properly develop while consistently pushing the plot forward. He also allows viewers time to think about what they might do in similar situations, and that’s the most valuable benefit of a film like this.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include an audio commentary featuring Kurtzman, Pine and Banks.