We’ve seen superheroes fly, aliens attack, the beginning of the Xenomorph, a President hunt down vampires, and even a talking teddy bear all in the matter of two short months. However, have we yet seen anyone simply live with the challenges of life? That’s the question People Like Uspops into heads as it makes its way into theaters this weekend, and centers around a man who discovers he has a half-sister he never knew existing and in turn a nephew who lacks a male role model in his life. With a cast that includes some impressive names and the directorial debut of a man who’s penned Star Trek, Transformers,Watchmen, and more, is this character-centered drama a worthy effort of breaking away from the usual status quo as the heat outside begins to rise?
People Like Us is perhaps the game changer of the summer due to how refreshing it feels to get away from the blockbusters, special effects, sequels, etc. and just simply hone in on an original dramatic tale that focuses on the human experience. That being said, the film does great…to an extent. With emotions and story being really the film’s pride and joy, there are various connecting elements that prove themselves to truly drive the movie in great ways, including the performances. While the plot ultimately does feel predictable in respective ways, and there are some problems with Chris Pine’s damaged character at first, People Like Us is thankfully a decent outing that certainly doesn’t feel nearly as disappointing as most of the summer fare that has shown up thus far, and ends on a genuine & heartwarming note.
Perhaps one of the most unbalanced pieces of People Like Ushappens to be how much it can suck you in. While the film easily succeeds once it gets going, it feels like it may take awhile to get there. What doesn’t help, either, is that while Pine’s character of Sam is seen as a lost soul buried in debt and his work, for a good portion of the film he never feels like a reliable character. Sam is a main character that you can easily point out flaws in, and never really completely confide yourself in. While at first he feels like an empty vessel that the audience can simply see the events unfolding behind, he starts to become a stand alone individual thanks to the story changing his grudges, ability to assess the situation at hand, and ultimately manage his relationships surrounding him. But it’s that hesitance and mishandled conflictions that prevent us from every connecting with him, and leaving a big chunk of the central puzzle missing despite the developments and character climaxes he achieves by the final scene. Sam easily has depth to him, but it all ultimately seems selfish in certain respects due to everything he’s holding onto with all of his emotional might despite his ability to see what he actually has obtained.
Where Sam fails as a character, however, Elizabeth Banks’ Frankie succeeds. Not only is Frankie easily the stronger and more independent one, there’s something incredibly mesmerizing that Banks brings to the table in her role that is absolutely fantastic. In fact, this could be seen as one of Banks’ greatest performances to date. Displaying herself every bit as damaged as Sam, she seems to find a way to layer that dysfunctionality under bouts of humor, past inflictions, the love for her son, some great one-liners, and even intrigue given her part in the main situation at hand. All of this combined adds plenty of depth to her role, while Banks easily plays each piece in a subtle manner that she can easily inject plenty of drama and heart into.
In fact next to Banks, there’s really not a bad performance out of the main four characters of Pine, Banks, Olivia Wilde, and Michelle Pfeiffer. Each bring an equal amount of character problems to the table, while each lean on each other for varying story elements that affect the bigger piece at large. It’s clear that director/writer Alex Kurtzman develops a character drama around all four, and it’s an incredibly realistic concept that thankfully lacks the glitz of your typical summer movie and just gets down to the core of any film: the character we’re watching on the screen.
However, while the characters may be convincing enough to go see this movie, the story certainly is what hits the hardest and is easiest to expect the most out of. With the main gimmick of the advertisements being that Sam knows Frankie is his half-sister he never knew about, a fact which he withholds from her, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise to you as it does the characters in the film. With the general plot laid out, there are parts of this movie that are so incredibly predictable at times that eventually do happen and it ultimately feels like you’re playing a boring guessing game. The only impressive moments are the small ones where the story finds ways to actually throw very minor twists into the machine already in motion, but from the second Sam starts to hide his identity you can easily guess the endgame in a matter of seconds.
One other flaw of the storyline is an inclusion of a lawsuit subplot for Sam that is a constant reminder throughout the entire film, and yet is never fully realized. Seen as incredibly serious, we never quite get to see what happens once Sam neglects his work for family even at his own career expense, but the fact he makes the sacrifice itself is certainly a notable aspect. While it’s enough to say that alone is enough, the fact the subplot is left somewhat up in the air by the time the credits begin to roll is just a bit disheartening.
Another flaw may be the borderline-incest element that Sam obviously wants to stay far away from. In this day and age, if Sam gets as close to Frankie and her son as he did, it’s obvious that she wants to be more than simply a platonic relationship. For some reason there are some beats of the film that strike this chord much more than others, including one scene where their faces are 2 inches apart as he bums a cigarette, and it’s obvious that there would be some real romantic relationship between the two had they not been related, which Frankie seems to make a play on near the beginning of the final act. Furthermore, the inclusion does make it feel as if Wilde’s Hannah is a bit half-assed. It’s almost as if she’s included within the film only to make sure the tone doesn’t overplay too much into the rest of the plot. At the end of the day, she’s the one who has his romantic heart, and perhaps she could simply be there for that subject alone to district us from really seeing an even more heightened relationship between Sam and Frankie (as really she doesn’t play too major of a part following the brother/sister revelation until the final moments).
But despite all of the story flaws, it’s how the characters react to the plots presented that truly makes the film, and what likely makes each performance so damn good. The film isn’t really about the plot; it’s about an experience simply about life and being human in general. It’s the dialogue of somewhat-wit, the emotions brought forth, and simply being able to relate to these characters that truly make for an enriching drama that anyone can relate to with everything brought forward. Add in the actors, the decent-yet-rocky plot, and the ability to stick out as something original in an entertainment world filled with plenty of adaptations (though the film is “inspired by true events”, so take that as you may).
People Like Us isn’t perfect. The story, while interesting, is predictable which leads to most of the film leaning on the actors at hand to provide something to really look forward to. And for the most part, it works. While very dramatic, there are plenty of reasons to stifle a quick laugh or smile throughout the film that makes it all the more enjoyable to watch, while also feeling incredibly recountable to you as a viewer. The characters are layered though some come off much better than others in this damaged troupe. Where those characters come in is where the film really builds off of, and creates an enticing event worth watching. While it has noticeable flaws, it all equals up to an end result that isn’t as great as it could have been, but still at the very least amusing.
3.5 out of 5