Graphic Language: Medium
Strong Sexual Content: Some
Director Alex Kurtzman takes the viewer on a topsy-turvy ride through colossal family dysfunction, lies, and decades of secrets in the fast-paced drama PEOPLE LIKE US, with Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks, and multi-award-winning, veteran actress Michelle Pfeiffer in the lead.
Chris Pine (of the rebooted STAR TREK fame) plays Sam, a shyster of a salesman who’s indebted over his eyeballs, who is confronted by a consoling girlfriend (Olivia Wilde) with news that his father passed away that very day. While still in his girlfriend’s loving embrace, his first verbal response to the devastating news is, “What’s for dinner?” Merely a skim of the depths of this particular family’s dysfunctions. After a pathetically shallow attempt to avoid a flight to attend his father’s funeral, they do finally arrive at his boyhood home . . . late. Very late.
As in after the funeral service that left his mother (Veteran Actress Michelle Pfeiffer) stewing in a pew all by herself. She vents her anger by slapping him in the face, then – in a bit of comedic irony – says, “I’m glad you’re home.” Now we’re just under the surface of the water . . . the bottom of this steaming cesspool nowhere in sight.
Sam meets with the family lawyer handling his late father’s estate (Veteran Actor Phillip Baker Hall). His inheritance is a dark brown, leathery, zipped-up bag that resembles a slightly over-sized traveling toiletries pouch for men. He’s not happy. Did I mention he is broke? Upon opening the bag, clueless as to what to expect, he is shockingly elated to find multiple thick rolls of cash . . . to the tune of $150,000!
Could he have been wrong about his Dad, a semi-famous record producer who appeared to love his job more than his own son? Then he sees it. There’s another piece of paper in the bag . . . but this one isn’t green with a famously historical United States President embedded on it. It’s a note. Instructions to get the money to an unfamiliar name at an unfamiliar address, to take care of “them.” Did I mention Sam was broke?
As we dive deeper into the abyss of this family’s dysfunctions and secrets, we find – through some spying on Sam’s part – that the note referenced a nephew (Michael Hall D’Addario) that Sam never new he had, making that nephew’s single mother, a hard-working and scantily-clad bartender (Elizabeth Banks), Sam’s half-sister, Frankie.
Wanting to know more about his literal long-lost sister and nephew and family history, he befriends them . . . but isn’t up-front with who he is or exactly why he is showing interest in them. Although Sam is, of course, respectful of the fact Frankie is his sister and communicates very clearly in speech that he is not hitting on her, she cannot but wonder who this new guy in her life is, who has taken an interest in her and her son. Mixed signals to say the least, all while Sam processes his internal conflict of wanting to tell them the truth, yet not knowing how. And the longer he waits, the harder it is.
People Like Us is a relatively original story, inspired by true events. The acting is solid all around. It is not family-friendly, however, as it does delve into some adolescent topics (i.e. the 11-year-old nephew in this PG-13 flick light-heartily quips a comment to Sam about gratifying himself in the context of lusting after one of his much older neighbors), as well as some very complicated emotional adult dysfunction. There’s also a smattering of language here and there.
As original and intriguing as the story is, too, however, I found myself disappointed at how the first half of the film was shot and spliced together, cinematically. An over-abundance of shots forcefully edited together similar to the feel of a fast-paced music video. Even a poignant scene between Sam and his mother was – from my perception – hacked with too many cuts and moved way too fast, visually, for the sensitive and tenderly written scene it was.
One might say that the cinematic style was merely mirroring the chaotic rawness of the characters’ lives and emotions. That may be, since it was mostly presented that way the first half of the film . . . but something is off if you’re sitting there thinking, “They could’ve saved so much money and time in production if they didn’t set up all these unnecessary shots . . .” To say the least, how it was shot and edited together distracted me more than it pulled me into the story.
From a Christian worldview perspective, one can glean a few very important things from this film, including (but certainly not limited to):
1) Honesty and family bonds are monumentally important.
2) What we say and do truly affects the lives of those around us.
3) Your children will believe and take to heart your actions so much more than your words alone. Monumental message from this movie, as both Sam and Frankie carried large emotional scars of abandonment from their different perceptions of a distant and narcissistic father.
Overall, I found People Like Us to be a cinematic instructional “HOW-TO” — how to not be people like them — for roughly 2/3 of the film. The remaining 1/3? Some redemptive lessons to be gleaned.
Watch the trailer People Like Us
Learn more about the author, Producer/Director Christopher at ChristopherShawnShaw
Proverbs 19:1 "Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool." (ESV) Of the many themes woven throughout the Word of God, honesty and integrity and uprightness are certainly of paramount importance. PEOPLE LIKE US consistently deals with the human condition and struggles in regards to being upright and truthful. Not only does Chris Pine's character lack honesty and integrity with his business dealings (to the point of grossly breaking the law), he also flat out lies and deceives his own live-in girlfriend when it comes to his own family's dysfunctions, and - of course - deceives his unknowing half-sister of their true relationship, further causing heartache and confusion in her and her pre-teen son's lives. The conflicts in this film could make for lively small group discussions. If you were deep in debt and bequeathed $150,000 . . . to give to somebody else . . . would you do it? How about $500? How 'bout $1,000,000? Does the amount matter? Should it? Oh, by the way, the person you are supposed to give the money to is your half-sister and her son (your nephew) whom you never knew about. Will you tell them? When will you tell them? How will you tell them? Obviously, this scenario could pose a number of questions (not necessarily moral issues) even in the Christ-follower's mind. If you watch the movie, ask yourself what you would do.