REVIEW: People Like Us

1 10 2012

“People Like Us” is the kind of tender, domestic drama that has become a specialty for writer/directors like Alexander Payne, Jason Reitman, Tom McCarthy, and Noah Baumbach.  It’s a story meant to provide insight into the human spirit by focusing on a tortured soul in a time of great duress and total life upheaval, lifting up the power of our relationships to either make or break us.  All achieved with the power of pathos.

Well, this movie doesn’t have the Baumbach brain.  Nor the McCarthy might.  And it doesn’t even come close to achieving Payne and Reitman heights.  But consider the two movies that writer/director Alex Kurtzman, along with his co-writer Roberto Orci, scribed prior to “People Like Us;” they were “Cowboys & Aliens” and “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.”  Not exactly tender, heartfelt human dramas.

I’m not a proponent of grading on a curve (although I am a staunch proponent when it comes to my test being graded), but I will say that I’m wiling to cut Kurtzman and Orci some slack because they didn’t churn out “The Descendants” or “Up in the Air” on their first try.  (I will note, however, that “Citizen Ruth” and “Thank You for Smoking,” their respective debut features, are both highly impressive.)  All things considered, “People Like Us” is an entertaining and fairly keenly observed film.  It hits a few flat notes along its journey, but there are enough powerful and touching moments scattered throughout the film to make it redeemable.

As Sam, a barterer whose shady dealings lead him into hot water with the SEC at the time of his father’s death, Chris Pine shines in a role that allows him to shed the cocky exoskeleton coating him from too long in rom-com purgatory.  Baring flashes of his raw soul, he’s fairly easy to sympathize with in spite of his character’s frustrating actions.  Like Robert Pattinson in “Cosmopolis,” it’s not an announcement that a true dramatic virtuoso has arrived on the scene, rather a signpost pointing towards greater things to come.

The real story of “People Like Us,” though, is Elizabeth Banks.  Her struggling mother Frankie, a former alcoholic trying to keep her world in orbit, is the key to Sam coming to peace with a painful and unacknowledged part of his past.  It’s absolutely heartbreaking to watch her in all good intentions trying to restore her faith in others while we know she’s headed down a path that can only lead back to an all too familiar pain.  And it’s Banks who makes her such a light on the screen.  Frankie is not merely a character in her gifted hands.  She’s a person, with troubles, with issues, with worries, with anxieties, with struggles, with small triumphs … like us.  B


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One response

2 10 2012
CMrok93

It’s a nice, little story that’s well-acted from everybody involved, but it never hit that emotionally-draining mark for me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice story but doesn’t really seem like it’s anything else other than a Lifetime movie with big-names in the lead roles, and a pretty kick-ass soundtrack. Nice review Marshall.

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