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People Like Us Review

Struggling salesman Sam (Chris Pine) finds out that his father has passed away. Flying back home with his girlfriend (Olivia Wilde) for the funeral turns out to be quite the challenge, but only because he’s made it so difficult. You see, Sam isn’t exactly a huge fan of his father. When he finally does make it home, he’s missed the funeral and walks into a house to his mother Lillian (Michelle Pfeiffer) in an understandably angry state.

Things aren’t going well so far, but imagine Sam’s surprise when his father’s lawyer leaves him $150,000 in cash. However, excitement quickly turns to outrage and self-wallowing as he finds out that it’s meant for someone else. He tracks down the person and discovers Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), a sister he never knew existed, and she’s raising a rebellious child (Michael Hall D’Addario) on her own.


In People Like Us, we see Sam getting to know his sister as he tries to figure out how he should disclose his identity. Through this journey, the age-old lessons of letting the past go and correcting past blunders take center stage. People Like Us makes the attempt to connect with us all on a human level. While the film has noble intentions and nicely ties things up when all is said and done, it fails to be the emotional rollercoaster it so desperately longs to be.

Although the film boasts at least one significant problem outside of its script, that’s where many of its shortcomings begin. People Like Us begins on an upbeat note, yet it’s one that clashes with the rest of the film. That might not be a completely fair statement, as none of the film actually seems to have specific tone or purpose in mind, but what about the actual storytelling? A story is being conveyed, but how is the story being interpreted?


The film lags dreadfully in the second act, going from one convoluted scenario to another. Longwinded conversations fail to bring the characters to the center stage so much as it does mildly funny lines that may have been implemented to keep the audience awake. The editing, inappropriately frenetic in nature and more reminiscent of The Expendables than a solid character drama, does no favors. People Like Us gives us plenty of reaction shots that feature a variety of emotions, but so little the way of actual emotion. What a pity, too, because the third act – and especially the resolution – really could have been something quite beautiful.

Pine isn’t quite up to the challenge as Sam either. His face and charisma are more than appropriate for the silver screen, and though he capably led Star Trek alongside Zachary Quinto, he lacks experience in dramatic acting. It’s painfully obvious in People Like Us; Pine has a difficult time balancing the dramatic and comedic elements of his tricky role and comes up short in the end. The character arc is full of clichés and utterly predictable, but he still fails to do anything with it.


Thankfully, the trio of supporting actresses doesn’t fail to impress. As the sister Sam never knew,  Banks steals People Like Us. She’s brassy, smart and witty, and her nuances, expressions, and vocal inflections – whether they are funny or serious – feel completely genuine. With such obvious dedication and sheer talent on display, you’d wish she had more to work with, but tropes are all Banks receives. She admittedly nails her role out of the park – character arc and all – but when you’re working with run-of-the-mill material, it can only be so good.

Pfeiffer has perhaps the most difficult role in the film as a betrayed wife. With very little time in the narrative, she appears for no more than a few minutes at a time, yet she has to make you feel the pain of her loss and her scattered emotions. Pfeiffer puts a brilliant and even occasionally darkly comic spin on the character, never missing any of the crucial beats. Elsewhere, Wilde’s frequently out-of-the-action girlfriend provides some emotional stability to Pine’s lack thereof, and though he’s given little with which to work as Banks’ son Josh, D’Addario holds up quite well in his supporting role.

For a film that’s preaching about correcting your mistakes, there are quite a few to be had. People Like Us fails to make a connection thanks to its lack of structure and weak leading performance. It’s worth watching for the standout performances of Banks and Pfeiffer, but wait for the DVD or Blu-ray to check them out if you’re fond of their work.

Rating
4.0

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