Warning: Contains unexpected rant.
When Sam’s (Chris Pine) father dies, he returns to LA to find the legacy he has been left is not the one he expected.
There had to have been good intentions in making People Like Us, there just had to be. Sadly, what appears on screen may be well intentioned but it doesn’t necessarily work. Chris Pine does his best to convince us that he is a selfish ass transformed by the arrival of two new people into his life, and for the most part he manages it. As Frankie, Elizabeth Banks reminds audiences that while she is a skilled comedic actress, she can also bring depth and subtlety to a dramatic and tragic role. The chemistry created between Banks and Pine is the element that the entire film hinges on, so it is a good job that the pair spark on screen, it is just a shame that their dialogue and story arc are a little on the uncomfortable side.
Michelle Pfeiffer, Jon Favreau, Philip Baker Hall, Olivia Wilde and Mark Duplass make up the supporting cast and, while there are strong performances from each of the cast, most of the supporting actors are barely in the film long enough for the audience to register their presence. Olivia Wilde’s character manages to argue with Chris Pine’s and then storm off across the country, Favreau is in one scene and Mark Duplass, star of Your Sister’s Sister and the hilarious TV show The League is reduced to playing a kindly neighbour. A complete waste of some great talent.
The story is one that definitely rings true on some level; Sam and Frankie are half brother and sister, but they never knew about one another. When their father dies, he leaves Sam a large amount of money to give to Frankie’s son. Instead of handing the money over, however, Sam decides to get to know his half sister and nephew first. However, there are several issues that come up straight away; why does Sam get to decide whether his father’s last wishes be carried out? And it is definitely unfair on Frankie that he knows their relationship and she doesn’t… But then this is the hook that the film hangs on, and it is kind of an awkward hook. A lot of the looks and flirty chats between Frankie and Sam border on incestuous, and Sam allows his relationship with his sister to develop to such a level that she tries to kiss him before he tells her the truth. See, awkward. Told you.
As well as this, Sam takes advantage of his knowledge to get to know Frankie better and, while it certainly seems that the affection he develops for her is real, it is formed in an incredibly dysfunctional manner. Their father comes off as cruel and thoughtless for most of the film, but it is only in the final scene is the true, unintentional, creepiness of his relationship with his kids revealed. When he was a child, Sam’s father used to take him to the park every Sunday and Frankie’s mother would take her to the same park. As the kids played, their father filmed them with a Super 8 camera… Now, I may be overly sensitive due to certain truths being revealed in the media recently, but this does not come off as cute as writer/ director Alex Kurtzman hoped. Instead, this final moment, which is supposed to unify Frankie and Sam, comes off as sinister and creepy.
Like I said, it is clear what Alex Kurtzman was trying to do, but it does not work. This is the first film that Kurtzman has directed, and he certainly coaxes some top-notch performances from his actors, but the story comes off as twee, trite and unsettling. Kurtzman has written some high profile films throughout his career, including Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Cowboys and Aliens and Mission: Impossible III, but this could well be the problem; the director was too close to the script and therefore could not see the potential issues arising through the film. The script may have been written as sweet and heart warming – and there is no doubt that some of this remains – but it is not the overwhelming feeling that comes over on the screen.
In all, People Like Us tries to be a charming story about finding family and friends where you least expect them, with the moral that good things often come from bad situations. There is some of that message still there, but it is lost in awkward direction that pitches the lead characters as potential lovers rather than brother and sister. Pine, Banks and the rest of the cast give nuanced and endearing performances, but due to some odd direction, the film ultimately just feels creepy.