Director: Alex Kurtzman
Rating PG-13. Running Time: 115 minutes
Stars: Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks, Michael Hall D'Addario, Michelle Pfeiffer
Family secrets make for interesting dramatic material — and let's face it, we all have them.
In People Like Us, director-writer Alex Kurtzman draws from his own personal tale to craft a plot that takes the family reconciliation story and turns it into something new and compelling. The film is also helped by some terrific performances from young actors Chris Pine (Star Trek, Unstoppable), Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games, Zack and Miri Make a Porno) and newbie Michael Hall D'Addario. The underrated Michelle Pfeiffer appears in the film only occasionally but demonstrates her full range of talent in an emotional scene where she admits — to others and to herself — that her marriage was never as good as it appeared on the surface.
The story begins when Sam Harper (Pine), working in New York, gets word that his father has died suddenly. He flies to Los Angeles for the funeral, and when his mother (Pfeiffer) drops a comment about how Sam is good at "running away," we realize that theirs was not a close parent-child relationship. Sam's dad, however, has left behind $150,000 in cash with instructions for Sam to deliver it to the half-sister he never knew he had. When he tracks down Frankie (Banks), he discovers that his half-sibling is a recovering alcoholic working as a bartender, and a single mother to a somewhat angst-ridden adolescent son named Josh (D'Addario).
Kurtzman allows Sam to delay telling Frankie exactly who he is and what his intentions are for a frustratingly long time, inviting some icky possibilities. At the same time, he devotes several touching scenes to interplay between Sam and Josh. And, in an interesting plot twist, we discover that the half-siblings have been connected since childhood in ways they didn't even realize.
The strength of People Like Us is undoubtedly rooted in the personal experiences of Kurtzman (who is known mostly for writing action fare, such as Cowboys & Aliens). The movie realistically explores the ripple effects that occur when family members hide truths from one another. And it underscores how, despite secrets and lies, family ties often endure nonetheless.
You may also like: To Rome With Love: Woody returns to funny.