Life Proves Complicated for People Like Us
- Christian Hamaker Contributing Film and Culture Writer
- 2012 29 Jun
DVD Release Date: October 2, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: June 29, 2012
Rating: PG-13 (for language, some drug use and brief sexuality)
Run Time: 115 min.
Director: Alex Kurtzman
Actors: Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Hall D’Addario, Olivia Wilde, Phillip Baker Hall, Mark Duplass, Jon Favreau
Counter-programming is a strategy fraught with peril during summer movie season. During a time when mainstream releases serve up more than the usual number of semi-coherent, semi-literate “stories” dominated by rock-’em-sock-’em special effects, a film or two usually gains “sleeper” status by catering to a different demographic. However, those films rarely come from major studios. Instead, the summer sleepers are often independent or foreign releases that, at their peak, play on a smaller number of screens than major Hollywood releases during their opening weekends.
That makes People Like Us an anomaly—and a major risk for Disney and Dreamworks, the studios behind the film. Opening the same weekend as the latest Tyler Perry film (Madea’s Witness Protection) and in between Brave and The Amazing Spider-man, People Like Us is in danger of being overlooked. Starring actors who haven’t established themselves as major box-office draws, the film easily could get lost amid the myriad of other choices at the multiplex. That would be a shame, because its deft handling of complicated situations makes People Like Us one of the best American films released so far this year.
The story focuses on Sam (Chris Pine), a slick businessman who’s found a way to successfully package an old concept: bartering. He hits up investors and executes deals, trying to keep the operation going while his boss (Jon Favreau) deals with two ex-wives and a son in rehab.
Just as one deal unravels and his company comes under scrutiny for financial mismanagement, Sam receives more bad news: His dad has died. But when his girlfriend (Olivia Wilde) delivers the news, Sam, stunned but far from grief-stricken, responds, “What’s for dinner?” Sam makes it clear that he’d rather be anywhere than at his father’s funeral, angering his mother (Michelle Pfeiffer).
Facing mounting legal troubles and a pile of debt, Sam is tasked with making good on his father’s final wish: the delivery of $150,000 in cash to Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) and her son, Josh (Michael Hall D’Addario). Sam befriends Frankie and learns that she is a mess—an alcoholic who isn’t sure which of her past lovers is Josh’s father—but, tempted to keep the money for his own use, he doesn’t divulge the reason he’s getting to know her.
As Sam insinuates himself into the lives of Frankie and Josh, People Like Us blossoms into a complicated human drama. The film establishes the connection between Sam and Frankie early (this review won’t tell because it’s better discovered while watching), but the story’s drama is just beginning. The film navigates the tricky terrain of bringing together two attractive leads, while tiptoeing around the romantic payoff viewers have come to expect from this sort of set-up. People Like Us is about a different kind of love—not the romantic kind, but the kind that puts the needs of others before our own.
Pine, best known as Capt. Kirk in the Star Trek reboot, comes into his own here, as does the better known Banks, who hasn’t been asked before to carry this much narrative weight. We’ve seen her sort of harried single-mom character before on the big screen—trying to make ends meet while facing up to her child’s trouble-making tendencies—but Frankie is an interesting contradiction. She attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings when she’s not working as a bartender. She’s learned from her past mistakes, but she’s also not without regrets, bonding with Sam over a shared disappointment from earlier in their lives.
People Like Us has a few moments that are too familiar, usually set to a soft, acoustic guitar-based score that unnecessarily dictates the emotional responses the film would have accomplished without the extra help. But its “awww-shucks” sentimental moments are more than balanced out by the uncertainty of how the film will resolve the relationship between Sam and Frankie. Rather than give the pair a smoothed over road to a romantic happy-ever-after, the film pushes right to the point where one of the leads makes a move on the other (the preview audience gasped during the screening, and several people shouted, “No!”) before pivoting to a graceful, touching conclusion.
During a summer season driven by loud blockbusters, “graceful” and “touching” might have a hard time finding an audience, but a film as well written and performed as People Like Us deserves a following. It’s not a perfect film, but for everything it gets rights, People Like Us is a film to seek out and discuss.
- Language/Profanity: Christ’s sake”; “s-it”/”bull-hit”; an obscene gesture; a gay joke; crude reference to male anatomy; “a-s”; the f-word.
- Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: Sam’s boss says he has a son in rehab; scenes of drinking; Frankie is an alcoholic who attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings; characters smoke; reference to an alcoholic love child; drug use; characters share a joint; Frankie says she used to “drink” and “bump.”
- Sex/Nudity: Frankie shows cleavage; Frankie jumps on a neighbor suddenly and has sex with him; a derogatory reference to being a “technical virgin”; Frankie says she used to “get laid” and isn’t sure which man fathered her child; allusion to masturbation; advice offered to Josh includes, “Never sleep with someone who has more problems than you.”
- Violence/Crime: Sam’s mom slaps his face; reckless driving; Frankie slaps and hits Sam.
- Marriage: Sam’s boss says he has two ex-wives; Sam thinks Frankie was his dad’s mistress; Sam’s mother is confronted with details about her husband’s other family.
- Religion/Morals: A character asks for forgiveness.
Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at email@example.com.