Release date: November 9th, 2012
Director: Alex Kurtzman
Starring: Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks, Michelle Pfeiffer
Almost like an off-season experiment, People Like Us is a modestly-budgeted attempt at a dramedy from some of the talent behind J.J. Abrams’ recent Star Trek reboot. Being written, directed by, and starring a handful of recognisable names and faces who worked on the space opera’s latest adventure, you would be forgiven for holding out hope that this release would contain a modicum of the humour, heart or entertainment value which that film held in abundance. Instead the viewer is treated to an insipid tale about a thoroughly unlikable man who waits far too long to tell his new-found half-sister that he exists, and it’s exactly as much fun to watch as it sounds.
After his father’s untimely passing, Wall Street shill-of-the-day Sam (Chris Pine) reluctantly returns home to get the family estate in order with the intention of picking up any money he may have been left in the will. This is of higher importance than comforting his devastated mother because, y’know… he’s a dick. Sam is mortified to find out that a bag of $150,000 in cash not only exists, but will be heading to the pockets of a half-sister he never knew he had — Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), an alcoholic and struggling single mother. Following from this brief setup, what ensues is essentially 90 minutes of unnecessary banality as Sam muddles over whether he should do the right thing and help out his struggling sibling or selfishly cling on to the money himself, disappearing back home to leave her none the wiser. For normal, decent folk, this is a no-brainer… but not for Sam. He likes to keep you guessing. Y’know, because he’s a dick.
We’re pointlessly strung along on this moral ‘dilemma’ to the point of sheer exhaustion. Perhaps more aggravating is that the filmmakers construct Sam as a character to be sympathised with throughout; he should be endearing to us when he joyrides in his deceased father’s car, listens to his rock and roll records at full volume in the middle of the night, knocks back the old man’s prescription drugs, wears his aftershave, drinks his liquor… because, hey, better off being a manchild than a heartless shill, right?
The actors involved do an admirable job under the circumstances — deep-seated issues with the film’s writing aside, it’s hard to fault performances of Banks and Pine who successfully breathe life into their respective lead roles. However, any nuance which they may bring to the table is often drowned out by either a pumping Dad’s drivetime soundtrack, or an unbelievably misguided underscoring by A. R. Rahman whose themes wash over the dialogue like a soap opera.
Above all else, though, the title People Like Us connotes a sense of relatability completely missing from the piece. While Kurtzman and co. claim that the film has been “inspired by true events”, it’s hard to believe that any human being would be so overbearingly scummy, selfish and naive as Sam. His predicament serves simply as a lazy device which gives the filmmakers free rein to drag the viewer through a series of awkward encounters, frustrating silences and rote clichés, before fulfilling any delayed gratification and rolling credits. It’s frustrating, trite, and thoroughly disappointing given the potential of the talent — be sure to avoid.