Walter Mencken 1:04 p.m., Sept. 4
Review: People Like Us
According to the terms of his estranged father’s will, Sam (Chris Pine) must deliver $150,000 in a shaving kit to Elizabeth Banks, the 30-year-old sister he didn’t know existed. Initially reluctant to hand over the cash to Dad’s hippie love child, Pine manages to become a major part of his sister’s life without letting the truth slip, and that's where the fun is.
Given the improbable physical allure of both leads, it stands to reason -- at least in Hollywood terms -- that in order for a movie to work, sex must somehow enter the equation. Romance, yes, but in this case it would be impossible for them to physically consummate their love and still get by with a PG-13 rating. From a purely narrative standpoint, Sam can't reveal the truth because that would put an end to the sexual tension and the story.
For his directorial debut, blockbuster word-slinger Alex Kurtzman’s (Transformers, Cowboys and Aliens) greatest sin is keeping the camera too close. In its earnest pursuit to untangle the web of lies under which the family has been operating, the screenplay (co-written by Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jody Lambert) seldom crosses over into soap opera territory.
The performances are uniformly superb. Elizabeth Banks has been making movies for going on fifteen years, slowly climbing the ranks from cheap, crappy exploitation (Wet Hot American Summer, Swept Away) to expensive, crappy blockbusters (Spider-Man 1-3, Catch Me if You Can).
The parts began getting larger after her breakout role in The 40-Year-old Virgin and with rare exception, Banks has set her sights on big-budget crowd-pleasers. (This year also saw roles in Man on a Ledge, The Hunger Games and What to expect When You're Expecting.)
Ever see an iceberg thaw? Watch Banks as Frankie, a hard-living reformed alcoholic tending bar to make ends meet. By day, the single-mom has to to wrangle a smart-mouthed young son (newcomer Michael Hall D'Addario) who has a habit of blowing up swimming pools and talking to strange adult males in CD stores. (The way Kurtzman and crew write their way out of the latter scene gives the film one of its biggest laughs.)
Chris Pine is anything but knotty as the smooth-talking big city salesman (guilty of fraudulent business practices) who discovers life while making a dreaded return home for a funeral. The connections made between mother, son, and brother/uncle/boyfriend are what keep it interesting. Banks immerses herself in the role and the two boy's growing awareness of (and dependence on) Frankie give the film its heart.
For decades, the tagline “Based on Real Events” has been synonymous with “Cable-Ready” – particularly when there’s a hint of incest added to the mix. Michelle Pfeiffer, back in outstanding form, plays Pine's deeply-dysfunctional mom. On a moonlight constitutional with joint in hand, the estranged son vows never to hit on his mother. With all the hints of in-breeding going on in the picture, the writers still feel the need to toss in an extra layer.
It's been screened numerous times -- I saw it almost two months ago and again earlier this month -- but does it stand a chance at the box office?What were the dumbsocks at DreamWorks and Disney thinking by opening People Like Us opposite Ted (aka Dirty E.T.) and Channing Tatum's bare ass?
The last shot is a stunner, with Kurtzman literally using the power of film to visually and emotionally reunite his leads. Those scorched by the “chick flicks” that pass for women’s pictures nowadays (Katherine Heigl and Jennifer Aniston, take note) can finally rejoice: People Like Us is the real deal.
Reader Rating: Three Stars
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