By Greg Reifsteck
People Like Us is the heart and soul date movie of the Summer
Every summer people are looking for popcorn fare to escape their hectic lives. I enjoy a good mindless action film as well, but for every super hero slugfest or cranked up action thriller I need a think piece as a palette cleanser. I crave for a film that stretches my mind as well as satisfying my eyeballs.
This year’s surprise is People Like Us. It is one of those rare gems that studios for financial reasons shy away from making. They would rather spend $150 million on special effects to make Megatron crap a CGI lightning bolt to make $300 million, instead of spending $20 million to possibly tell us a compelling or inspiring story.
People Like Us reminded me of last year’s hidden and underappreciated surprises Crazy Stupid Love and We Bought a Zoo in the way it also showed humanity for all of its brightness as well as its blemishes. It is about real people dealing with real life problems, and taking them on with dignity and respect. The characters in People Like Us don’t talk down to each other or at each other, as they do in many formulaic Hollywood dramas. They aren’t preachy either. They just have normal conversations that are food for thought.
Inspired by true events of its director Alex Kurtzman, the film stars Chris Pine as Sam, a twenty-something, slickster scam artist. Sam’s latest “deal” collapses on the day he also learns that his father has passed away. Sam lives a jet set lifestyle, and wants to run away from the reality of the situation. But, he is called home against his wishes by his estranged mother Lillian (Michelle Pfeiffer). We get a taste that his father lived the same wild lifestyle Sam has fallen into. Fueled by drugs and alcohol, he was an old school music industry A & R guy that lived the Laurel Canyon life to its Wonderland fullest.
His father’s attorney Ike (Philip Baker Hall) meets with Sam to get the estate in order, and gives him a small bag of money. But the loot is not for him. The bag also contains a note saying he must deliver the money to a mystery address. Sam soon uncovers a startling secret that turns his entire world upside down: he has a 30-year-old sister Frankie whom he never knew about (Elizabeth Banks). As their relationship develops and deepens, Sam is forced to slow down and look life straight on instead of just the corner of his eye. He also has a misunderstood nephew Josh (Michael Hall D’Addario) that does some early-teen acting out by placing a homemade bomb in his school pool.
This film is obviously a labor of love to first-time director (but veteran writer) Kurtzman, and thank goodness Spielberg saw the potential in the story to let him make it over at DreamWorks. The budget of the whole film probably cost the same as 15 minutes of one of the Kurtzman usual special effects fests. It was brave of him to try and tread in unfamiliar waters, and he should be commended for succeeding with a movie that tugs at the heart and soul.
Pine shows real chops in drama, and should continue down that path. We knew he had it in him playing a young James T. Kirk in the Kurtzman-penned Star Trek reboot. He gives his character real depth and makes us believe in both sides of Sam; the one that can’t stop lying to sell anything to anyone and the one that realizes the truth will set him free.
I must digress, I have what I call my movie girlfriends; actresses I know I don’t have a chance with in reality, but will watch them in any film they star in because I have massive crushes on them. Sandra Bullock is my ultimate movie girlfriend, such brains, beauty and balls. I even suffered through Premonition and Miss Congeniality 2 to watch her at work for goodness sake. Emma Stone is another one thanks to Zombieland, Easy A and Crazy Stupid Love. You get the picture.
So my latest cinematic babe that can hold her own is Elizabeth Banks, who plays Frankie in People Like Us. She first caught my eye as a football wife in Invincible, but really got me going in Zach and Miri Make a Porno. She gives it her all as Frankie in People Like Us. She makes Frankie many dimensions of emotion, and a very old soul. The chemistry between Pine and her is charming and palpable.
The other huge discovery in this film is D’Addario. He has the same look in his eye Patrick Fugit had an impressionable young rock journalist in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous. He spews his little philosophies on life with venom, but you know deep down inside he is going to be a heartbreaker. D’Addario gives his character an innocence that you know won’t last very long once he puts all of the pieces together. And you root for that day to come along with him, because in his small acting nuances D’Addario gives him potential.
Please give this film a chance this weekend if you are not in for the rude and crude Ted or the Chippendale’s kitsch of Magic Mike. If you want to impress your first date, or are trying to resuscitate a relationship, take them to see this movie. If the tenderheartedness of People Like Us doesn’t get things swooning then nothing will.