Watched Jul 15, 2012
Eric Forthun’s review:
People Like Us is a movie I like in essence; in execution, it’s remarkably faulty, almost to the point of incomprehensibility of its characters. But the romanticized notion of reuniting family, and the idea of family being something that makes us love one another for no apparent reason, gets me every time. I have this thing for films that connect to the core of who I am as an individual, even if the plot is something left to be improved. I admire Kurtzman and what he wants to do here, but the plot meanders to the moment where we want to yell, “Just tell her already!” There are countless instances where the major plot point should be revealed, yet it’s revealed at the most inopportune and awkward time. It’s intentional that way, and most of the moments here are predictable; as I said, though, there’s an unabashed honesty to its storytelling. There are effectively emotional moments: some are gimmicky, some are sincere. But never once does the film feel overly self-righteous; it’s just a good natured movie with its heart out for everyone to dissect. I let it be and admired what it had to say.
Sam (Chris Pine) is a man who we shouldn’t really like. He’s a “halfway decent” person, as Hannah (Olivia Wilde) says late in the film, but she means it after we’ve seen this character change. Sam is a man driven by success, or so it seems; he appears to be helping others, as he claims, but he’s also looking for ways to make money and the best ways are slightly illegal. The FTC comes after him after he transports soup through Mexico in boxes; it’s unsanitary, of course, and he could face criminal charges. He gets news that his father died, which adds fuel to the fire, and his reaction is spectacular: what’s for dinner? We relate to him in that moment, not understanding how to cope with loss and instead deflecting to the nearest thing. It’s a wonderfully executed scene that cuts to the title screen, and what better moment than that? It encapsulates some of the key moments of the film, even if the movie starts to get repetitive with those instances.
Sam changes; that’s evident. The change comes from the fact that he needs to give $150,000 to his sister that he never knew existed: Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), who also has a 12-year old son, Josh. His father had an affair with a woman, etc., etc. The details of that are for another summary-based review; I’ll do my best to avoid that, since the movie has plenty of plot. In fact, it almost gets repetitive in how it demonstrates these points. There’s miscommunication here, other characters want to say things that should be expressed differently, and it continues. The movie wants to capture what it’s like being an individual in this predicament: does it succeed? Somewhat, although human emotion can be a tricky little bitch. I related to some instances, as I mentioned briefly above. There were others where, for instance, Sam says he loves his mother, and the look on her face says it all; she flinches at the thought of her son opening up to her, and it’s remarkable how effectively sincere it seems. Any other actress would probably over-sell it; Pfeiffer makes us really feel for this mother in an obviously tricky situation.
To say the movie is special would be to put it aside in another spectrum of filmmaking; this isn’t a genre that’s been dealt with in quite some time. In that regard, it’s remarkable, since I didn’t know people still made films like this. They derive emotion from emotion itself, not from instances or other forms of literary devices; no visual cues here, nothing. Just pure, simple heart-to-heart talks that really cut to the core of what these individuals want to say to one another but can’t. I admire something about that straightforward, yet thematically complex piece of work. It isn’t really apparent here: Frankie makes a sexual advance at Sam that triggers their key conversation, and Sam can never find the right moment to express his beliefs. Hannah acts mostly as a plot device to advance Sam, which is frustrating. Olivia Wilde is such an immensely talented (and undeniably sexy) actress that she keeps getting these supporting roles she infuses with emotion. She’s so damn good at what she does, yet she never lands the role she truly deserves. All I think whenever I see her on screen, outside of how easy she is to look at, is this: why isn’t she a leading lady in almost every film?
Back on track. People Like Us is a film I admire, one I see a bit of old-fashioned sense in. I understand the complaints that the central conflict could be ended in two minutes by the characters sitting down and having a conversation with one another. But I’m giving Kurtzman the benefit of the doubt: I see that he wants to show how difficult it is to sometimes express the complicated issues in life. In this case, that’s a sister you never knew you had. That entire element works well, fundamentally; the ending, especially the last twenty minutes that wraps up the emotional (not focal, or plot-driven) elements, works on almost every level. It’s a far superior ending to a slightly inferior film, one that starts to lose purpose when it forgets what it really wants to do. The story goes on too long, the actors play the roles fine, but they sometimes disappear within the confines of the film just to serve the purpose of the plot. The middle lacks drive, but we like these characters enough to wish them success; when we finally see it, it’s worth the wait, but the journey is lacking in power.