People Like Us
Prolific writer and producer Alex Kurtzman ("Star Trek," "Transformers") eschews his normal razzle-dazzle/sci-fi genre of storytelling with a tender and heartfelt yarn about the pain and joy of family in the drama People Like Us.
Co-written with first-time scribe Jody Lambert and Kurtzman right-hand man Roberto Orci, "People" tells the story of Sam (Chris Pine) a fast -talking barter of "damaged" merchandise who finds himself in hot-water after a quick sale of tomato soup overseas violates a number of Fair Trade Agreement rules. Having lost over $80k in commission, he returns to his small NYC apartment to his girlfriend Hannah (Olivia Wilde) who tearfully tells him his estranged father has died.
He reluctantly returns to Los Angeles hours after the funeral is over to find his mother Lillian (Michelle Pfeiffer) rightfully pissed off at his absence. Claiming to need to be home the following day, Sam finds himself in his father’s "man cave" in the attic where mementos of his many years as a music producer fill every wall, closet, and photograph.
The following day, Sam is called by his father’s lawyer (Philip Baker Hall) who hands him his father’s old leather shaving kit. When he opens it he finds $150,000 in rolled up bills with a note that gives him a local address and tells him to give the money to a person named Josh. "Take care of them," he says.
Needing the money himself, Sam is reluctant to follow-through; especially since he isn’t keen on the old man. But he goes to the address anyway where he finds a bartender named Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) in mid-argument with her son Josh (Michael Hall D’Addario) who has just blown up his school’s pool. He follows her to an AA meeting where she tearfully shares that her absentee father - a famous record producer - has died. Alas, Sam and Frankie are half-brother and sister. Josh is his nephew. They are family.
So begins the story of how these two lost souls learn to break through their painful past and find a family that could heal them.
"People Like Us" is one of those really well-acted, written, and directed films that seems to have come out of nowhere, but will be embraced by people of all ages and walks of life. It’s involving, touching, and different than anything else currently at the theaters. Even though the main struggles are painful for the characters, there is a humor and hope that makes it rise above the onslaught of sad and hopeless films that seem to reflect the world today. There are no superheroes fighting to save the world, just a handful of people trying to save themselves and each other.
Chris Pine is lovely as Sam and is proving himself to be more than just a pretty face. He is able to alternate between the smarmy (his job), the disaffected (his anger at his father and mother), and the compassionate (his relationship with Frankie and Josh) with a believable ease that makes him a truly complex protagonist. Pfeiffer is radiant in a smaller, but pivotal role that gives her a few terrific scenes that could garner her an Oscar nomination. Similarly, newcomer D’Addario is so natural and hilarious as little Josh, it’s as if he’s not even acting. He’s a joy to watch.
But I will say that Elizabeth Banks is a revelation here. Terrific in her comedic roles in "Zach and Miri Make a Porno" and "30 Rock," she stretches her acting muscles with a character that is a bundle of nerves, desperation, and fear. Yet the love she has for her son and the acknowledgment she has of her past mistakes gives her a depth not seen so often on screen. She is captivating to watch and a sure-fire Best Actress Oscar contender.
In fact, "People Like Us" is the first Oscar-worthy film of the year. It’s not absolutely perfect, but it comes close. It’s one of the few films in recent years where you leave the theatre feeling satisfied and moved. It’s a studio picture through and through, but with the keen eye of first time feature director Kurtzman, a smart script, and fantastic performances, it’s the drama to beat. And audiences will fall completely in love with it.