By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — In a summer movie season full of comic book superheroes and supernatural creatures, it’s a relief to get the occasional movie focused on people like us.
That’s one of the reasons why the family-secrets drama, People Like Us, is so welcome.
Chris Pine plays Sam Harper, a glib, New York-based, twentysomething wholesaler salesman who learns that he needs to return home to Los Angeles to settle his recently deceased and estranged father’s estate and fulfill his final wishes. It’s clear that Sam is not exactly devastated, to say the least, by the news of his father’s demise.
When he and his law-student girlfriend, Hannah, played by Olivia Wilde, travel to attend the funeral –- after Sam tries to delay just long enough to actually miss it — he learns that his record-producing dad had a secret daughter out of wedlock. She’s struggling 30-year-old single mother Frankie, a bartender and recovering alcoholic played by Elizabeth Banks, and she has a rebellious 11-year-old young son, Josh, played by Michael Hall D’Addario.
Sam’s father has left instructions about $150,000 that Sam is supposed to deliver to the half-sister he didn’t know he had. However, Sam needs that money to get out of debt. So he insinuates his way into the life of Frankie and her son, but without revealing who he is or why he’s there.
Nor does he share this information with his grieving and seemingly resentful mother, played by Michelle Pfeiffer.
Debuting director Alex Kurtzman –- who has written screenplays for such high-profile movies as Transformers, Star Trek (starring Pine), and Cowboys & Aliens –- works from a semi-autobiographical script he co-wrote with Roberto Orci and Jody Lambert that perhaps delays the inevitable confession by Sam that the whole film hinges on to a point that strains credulity.
But the film is so emotion-drenched that we’re willing to go with it.
And the key performances make it work. Pine is fine in the lead, clearly demonstrating vividly the effect that Sam’s parent issues have had on the formation of his aggressive personality.
But it’s Banks and Pfeiffer, both playing characters struggling admirably with obvious emotional wounds, who absolutely shine.
All three get the opportunity to show us colors in their acting palettes that they’ve rarely been able to dip into before, and all three turn in sympathetic performances that get us invested by not only making us understand what they’ve been through dealing with either an absent father or an unfaithful husband, but also help us to feel pleased about their growth and closure by film’s end.
So we’ll inherit 3 stars out of 4 for a sibling-discovery dramedy about family and forgiveness for grownups, People Like Us. With comic book-inspired fantasies all over the movie marketplace, it’s emotionally compelling and accessible movies like this that bring us, gratefully, back down to earth.