People Like Us is a relationship story and tearjerker structured like a Hollywood romance. Romance is out of the question, however, because the leads are half-brother and sister (only one knows the truth). At the screening I attended, there was a healthy amount of applause at the end of the movie. If you're a fan of this sort of stuff, you might consider skipping the rest of this essay, as you may find it annoying.
Sam Harper (Chris Pine) is a fast-talking salesman who comes off like Tom Cruise's scuzzy character in the first half of Rainman. In varying degrees of trouble with his girlfriend Hannah (Olivia Wilde), his boss (Jon Favreau, briefly) and the Federal Trade Commission, Sam learns that his father has died. After unsuccessfully trying to sabotage the trip home, Sam ends up arriving with Hannah just in time to miss the funeral and the post-funeral get-together, earning a big slap from his mother Lillian (Michelle Pfeiffer).
Enough background, here's the key part: Sam, long estranged from his freewheeling pappy, meets with the estate lawyer and learns he has a half-sister from Dad's philandering days and that pop wants him to give a huge amount of money to the half-sister's young son. Stunned, pissed and longing to keep the money, he stalks his half-sister Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) and her 11-year-old son Josh (Michael Hall D'Addario, who looks like somebody superimposed the head of There Will Be Blood's Paul Dano onto a kid's body). What follows is your standard romance framework. Sam meets Frankie and later the kid, gradually builds relationships with both, while withholding the truth until the designated minute late in the film's running time.
The story is "inspired by" actual events in director and co-screenwriter Alex Kurtzman's life, but it comes off like horse shit in a colorful candy coating. After a week of watching indie flicks for an upcoming film festival, I had little patience for the lush production populated by extremely attractive actors with perfectly coiffed hair and dazzling white teeth. It's not that I dislike the performers, but the idea of watching a parade of too-good-looking-to-be-true individuals in a movie called People Like Us is laughable.
Also irritating is the noticeably manipulative score and the cheesy writing. Listen to what the actors are instructed to say and ask yourself if you've ever heard real people talk or behave like these folks. One example comes late in the story, when young Josh reunites with a character he has grown very close to I watched and waited, hoping the writers would allow the boy to simply run up and hug the other person, but no, they have him saunter up and deliver a quip.
Damn. I generally have no problem with glossy Hollywood fare, but this one rubbed me the wrong way. Grafting a romance formula onto a thoroughly unconvincing relationship tale and selling it as a meaningful statement of the human condition I don't think so.