Big time producer Alex Kurtzman took his real life experience of meeting his half-sibling late in life and poured into the upcoming Dreamworks dramedy “People Like Us.” Together with his buddies Roberto Orci and Jody Lambert, Kurtzman wrote a story about a dysfunctional family reunion that ends in acceptance and reconciliation.
To be completely honest, “People Like Us” isa rarity. This summer is so jam packed with superheroes and strippers and far-away worlds that a family movie about estranged siblings seems rare and risky, especially coming from a big studio like Dreamworks and not some independent financier. The idea however, isn’t as unique.
Sam (Chris Pine) is a charming, fast-talking salesman with major daddy issues. The same day he finds out his job is about to fall apart, his girlfriend Hannah (Olivia Wilde) breaks the news about his father’s death. This forces Sam to abandon his work and fly home to deal with his mother Lillian (Michelle Pfeiffer) and his personal issues, “Garden State”-style. He then finds out that his famous music producer father kept some secrets. It turns out Sam’s not an only child. He’s got a half-sister named Franky (Elizabeth Banks) and a nephew named Josh (Michael Hall D’Addario). Sam injects himself into Franky and Josh’s life without explaining who he is. And that’s where this story begins to falter.
The screenwriters keep Sam’s identity a secret for most of the film. As a viewer, you already know what’s coming. Franky will eventually find out that Sam is her estranged brother, she’ll hate him for it and then tell him she never wants to see him again. That’s just what happens when you omit who you are, in any case.
The scene when Sam finally comes clean is both intense and creepy. Franky is a recovering alcoholic and single mother working as a bartender when she meets Sam outside an AA meeting. Her son is a troublemaker who blows up pools and steals music records. Sam comes into her life and acts like a friend and father figure to her son. Obviously, she develops romantic feelings for him because he’s charming and handsome. Though their relationship blossoms into something beautiful, there’s also that underlining tension that one of them is falling “in love” with the other, which is pretty creepy since they’re siblings (shades of “Star Wars’).
Elizabeth Banks is captivating as Franky. Her character is full of flaws yet she knows exactly how to go about her situation. She carries the role with confidence and vulnerability. Chris Pine also has a lot to offer as Sam. Normally, you’d hate a guy like this, but Pine gives him depth and means. Olivia Wilde on the other hand is totally underused in her throwaway character of Hannah.
Despite the “I’m actually your brother not just some guy” story, “People Like Us” has a strong cast with appealing characters who will relate with real-life people. There’s a relevant story somewhere in this movie. It’s also a break from all those shiny, big-budget movies.