People Like Us

Directed By: Alex Kurtzman

Starring: Chris Pine, Olivia Wilde, Elizabeth Banks, Michelle Pfeiffer, Mark Duplass, and Jon Favreau

You don't see too many mainstream family dramas coming out at this time of year.  With films like Ted, Magic Mike, and The Amazing Spider-Man getting all the buzz, a good family drama is likely to be a flop at the box office.  People Like Us is an interesting choice for release on 4th of July weekend.  It's a great movie.  Sadly, it's also a film that's likely to be a hidden gem.  People will just have to catch it on cable next year.

Sam Parker (Chris Pine) is a slick-talking salesman who works in bartering goods.  He's a rising star at his company who will do anything he can to save a dime.  When he decides to send 100,000 boxes of unrefrigerated soup to Ecuador by way of train through Mexico, he goes a little too far.  Because of the 115°F weather in Mexico, the soup explodes all over the train, and his boss Richards (Jon Favreau) has to deal with the aftermath.  To avoid having this catastrophic incident reported to the FTC, Richards has negotiated a deal with the client for whom the soup was being sent.  This guy just wants an addition to his house.  Backed into a corner, Richards agrees to the deal and tells Sam to get the materials needed for construction to begin at this guy’s house on Monday.

When Sam gets home from his less-than-stellar day, his girlfriend Hannah (Olivia Wilde) informs him that his father just passed away.  He's lost his battle with cancer.  In light of this, Hannah books a flight for them to Los Angeles immediately to attend the funeral.  Not having had a good relationship with his father Jerry, Sam conveniently forgets to bring his wallet into the airport, and they miss their flight.  He eventually gets to Los Angeles, but he's missed everything already.  He left his mother Lillian (Michelle Pfeiffer) to sit alone at the funeral.

Upon his arrival, his father's lawyer Ike Rafferty (Phillip Baker Hall) secretly contacts him and requests a lunch.  While out, Rafferty tells Sam that his father left him his record collection.  Outraged that he didn't get any money, he gets one more slap in the face from his dad.  Rafferty hands Sam his father's shaving kit.  Inside he finds $150,000 cash and instructions to give it to someone else, someone named Josh Davis (Michael Hall D'Addario).  When he goes to the address listed on his father's note, he finds Frankie Davis (Elizabeth Banks) and her son Josh.  He soon realizes that there's something familiar about Frankie.  He then discovers that she is his estranged sister.  He's still not so keen on giving her that money though.

People Like Us is a film that hinges entirely on the performances of the cast, and this cast delivers the goods.  From what I've told you, you should really be thinking that Chris Pine's Sam is a scoundrel.  In this case, you would be absolutely correct.  For the duration of the film, this guy is the scum of the earth.  He ships soup on a train to save a quick buck and violates a number of trade laws in the process.  He abandons his mother at his father's funeral.  Now, he even contemplates skipping town with his estranged sister's inheritance.  He's clearly not a good guy.  However, People Like Us is a film that centers on his character’s growth, and Chris Pine does a great job of being an asshole and subsequently becoming a better man.  Sam eventually stops running away from life's problems and starts leaning into them to confront them.

The women in People Like Us are tough as nails.  As Frankie, Elizabeth Banks gives a strong performance as a down-on-her-luck single mom who rightfully has daddy issues.  Banks really gives her character Frankie the depth she deserves.  Abandonment by her father did a real number on her, and Frankie shows us that when she beats the living hell out of Sam who represents everything her father never gave her.  As Lillian, veteran actress Michelle Pfeiffer does what she does best.  She gives us a middle-aged woman trying to cope with the loss of her husband and deal with the return of her wayward son.  As usual, she plays a feisty character, especially when slapping the taste out of Sam's mouth.  While not physically harming Sam throughout the movie, Olivia Wilde's Hannah does her fair share of damage as well, especially when she leaves him.  However, Wilde's character also appears to be a calming presence in the film, and I have to respect her strong performance.

My one gripe with People Like Us is that Frankie is a bartender.  It just doesn't make sense to me that a recovering alcoholic works as a bartender.  She pours her heart out at AA and then goes to the club to pop bottles for her customers.  Something doesn't add up right there.  Otherwise, People Like Us is an infectious, captivating family drama that gives us something a little different around this time of year.  Fueled by strong performances from Pine, Wilde, Banks, and Pfeiffer, this one will not disappoint.  People Like Us gets a 0.03% rating.  Have a few wine coolers with this one.