In the midst of Hollywood’s blockbuster season comes a film that feels out of place – by about three decades. Not in terms of setting – People Like Us is definitely a product of the 2010s – but in terms of style. While the central storyline isn’t something common, it’s far more ordinary than, say, a movie filled with male strippers.
People Like Us marks the directorial debut of Alex Kurtzman, who’s been responsible for the scripts of films and TV shows ranging from Star Trek and Transformers to Fringe and Alias. That background shows a bit in Kurtzman’s directorial style; at points, the shooting style is better suited for films with more action than dialogue. The story, though, feels largely authentic. It’s helps that the story is based in part on Kurtsman’s real-life meeting of his half-sister.
In the film, Chris Pine plays Sam, a salesman dealing in overstocked merchandise who’s increasingly in debt. In a double dose of bad news, Sam finds out that a botched order leaves him vulnerable to an FTC investigation, then finds out that his estranged father has passed away.
Sam reluctantly travels back home, where he discovers that his father left him $150,000 with a particular set of instructions – to leave the money with a previously unknown nephew. The nephew, Josh (Michael Hall D’Addario), is the son of Sam’s half-sister, Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), whose presence is also news to Sam.
Rather than give the money to Frankie and Josh, Sam decides to become more familiar with the two, while not revealing his familial connection. Of course, this leads to one of the main sources of drama in the film. Also adding to the drama is the tendency of both Sam and Frankie to build walls around themselves, a trait they both attribute to their distant father.
The chemistry between Pine and Banks as brother and sister is utterly believable, and along with D’Addario, they seem naturally like a family. Also shining in more limited roles are Michelle Pfeiffer as Sam’s mother and Olivia Wilde as Sam’s supportive girlfriend.
In a summer filled with spectacle, People Like Us is a relatively quiet alternative. It’s like the cinematic equivalent of comfort food; while it may not be extraordinary, it still feels good. There’s a fairly significant quotient of melodrama in the film, but solid casting and a story that aims for adults balance that element.