Families can be a confusing, consuming, rewarding adventure in living, but few movies these days have the patience or interest in exploring that dynamic — preferring superhero escapism or mind-numbing science fiction.
Not that there isn’t a place for the imaginative, but why not examine the occasional family impasse or the twisted, guarded family secret? Maybe because it’s uncomfortable? Maybe because it reminds us too much of people like us?
Based on real events, “People Like Us” is the story of a young, charismatic New York City salesman, Sam (Chris Pine), who is in trouble at work, may be in trouble with the Federal Trade Commission and finds out his estranged father has just passed away in Los Angeles.
He is reluctantly dragged back home by his longtime girlfriend, Hannah (Olivia Wilde), who doesn’t understand why Sam is so hesitant about dealing with his past.
Sam’s mother (Michelle Pfeiffer) is not happy that her only son could not manage to get to the funeral in time. He shows up that evening full of excuses and with a bewildered Hannah, who is trying to be supportive.
The next day, he’s called to meet with his father’s best friend and attorney, who hands him a shaving kit full of money ($150,000, to be exact) with a note and an L.A. address for a secret sister and a nephew he never knew existed. The note reads, “Take care of them.”
Torn between a need to dig himself out of a deep financial hole and a curiosity about this sister named Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), Sam tracks her down and strikes up a conversation, but never tells her, “I’m your brother.”
Over the next several days, Sam keeps watch over Frankie and her struggling 11-year-old son, Josh (Michael Hall D’Addario), discovering that she’s an overworked bartender with alcohol issues and her son acts out violently at school.
He will befriend the two, who become attached to this kind stranger from out of nowhere.
The path to revelation feels a bit long, but a lot of interesting conversation and character building fills the time beautifully. It takes time to care for and about people. In hindsight, my impatience was purely of my own doing. The film set a deliberate but proper pace, ultimately leading to a heartwarming conclusion.
I thought Chris Pine and the kid did a nice job here, but Elizabeth Banks shows once again why she may be one of the most genuinely watchable actresses on the screen today.
“People Like Us” is one of those thoughtful movies that I thought nobody cared about anymore. For the like-minded, it’s a breath of fresh air.