A pretty blonde with daddy issues? Check! A smouldering young man with a perfect heart to match his cheekbones? Check! Michelle Pfeiffer clutching her chest in anguish because she’s not the mother she thought she’d be? Check?
There are a lot of things going for Alex Kurtzman’s first foray into direction, People Like Us. It’s well-intentioned and well-acted and even occasionally well-written. Unfortunately, it’s the wrong format for the kind of story it is. Perhaps it’s because Kurtzman is the writer of movies like Transformers, Alias, Star Trek, Hawaii Five-0 and Cowboys & Aliens that it may have been inevitable that the studio would want the film to have an action-y kind of feel. Well, ok, except that this is a family drama about long lost loved ones and family secrets, neither of which are given enough time to settle and develop because of the constant cutting and zigzagging the film foists upon itself. Less is more!
Here’s the plot: a wayward New York salesman (or conman, really) named Sam (Chris Pine) is buried in debt and must find a way out. His father passes away, leaving him a seemingly worthless set of old vinyl records. His father has, however, left highly specific instructions for Sam to delver $150,000 to an address in Los Angeles which it turns out belongs to a single mother named Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) whose life is a big, bloated mess. Her son is smart but troubled, and she needs something – anything – to help them stay afloat. Sam and Frankie are, for all intensive purposes, in the same boat.
The biggest problem with the film is that Sam convinces himself he can’t tell Frankie about their shared parentage until just the right moment. Thus, Frankie is led to believe that the handsome stranger who keeps tracking her is hitting on her . . . when he’s really her brother. In the end, we are forced to accept that Sam has all the same daddy issues as Frankie, though our sympathies lie completely with Frankie and understand why she reacts the way she does (hint: it’s not pretty).
The best storyline in the film belongs to Michelle Pfeiffer who plays Sam’s mother, Lillian, a woman who once longed to be the next Joni Mitchell. Pfeiffer isn’t given as much to play with as she deserves, but she infuses the character with so much depth and pathos that you leave the film wishing you had seen more of her.
If we’re lucky, they’ll make that sequel.