People Like Us is an odd summer movie release. It’s composed of thoughtful writing, complex characterizations that demand raw, emotional performances from the actors, and an ending that’s anything but neat and tidy. In other words, it’s made for grown-ups with discriminating tastes, and thus it’s completely at odds with everything else being released. It will more than likely be buried at the box office and that’s a shame, because there’s fine, fine work going on here that deserves to be seen.
The film stars Star Trek‘s Chris Pine as Sam, a professional hustler who in the middle of a career crisis gets word that his estranged father has passed away. During a reluctant trip home to see his grieving mother (Michelle Pfeiffer), Sam discovers from his dad’s attorney that he’s been bequeathed a substantial monetary inheritance. There’s just one catch: it’s not for him, but for an 11-year-old boy he’s never met. The boy is the son of a half-sister he never knew existed. Sam then undertakes to get to know new-found sibling Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) and her son Josh (Michael Hall D’Addario) without telling them who he is or how he’s related to them, meanwhile trying to figure out just what to do. In the process, Sam not only gets a glimpse of their less-than-perfect lives, but also begins to re-examine his own life, his choices, and his understanding of who his parents really were/are.
Admittedly, it’s a set-up that sounds like it was contrived by a Hollywood scriptwriter, but it is based partly on the real-life experience of writer/director Alex Kurtzman (Star Trek, Mission Impossible III), who met his half-sister for the first time in his early thirties. Kurtzman’s script and direction keep the story and the performances “real,” for lack of a better term. These people, as Hollywood good-looking as they are, really feel like “people like us,” flawed, capable of making poor choices, but also capable of making good ones, too. And that is how they draw us into their world and make us want to stay.