Too Afraid of its Own Message
Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando
People Like Us, the directorial debut of Alex Kurtzman is an example of a film that starts off well but by the time the credits role is unsure of the statement it was trying to make. In reading about the film a few months ago, I was intrigued by it. It seemed as though it was a personal story that Kurtzman very much wanted to tell and I was curious to see Kurtzman would bring to the director's chair. Unfortunately where the film fails is in its need to wrap up every risk that it takes in a conventional Hollywood way.
The film stars Chris Pine as Sam, a businessman who excels at lying, and fails at being a decent human being and, as the film begins, is forced into returning home to Los Angeles to attend his estranged father's funeral. When the details of his father's will reveal that Sam has a half-sister he never knew about, he sets out to find out more about her. The sister in question is Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) an alcoholic single mother raising her troubled eleven-year old son, Josh (Michael Hall D'Addario). She, too, was estranged from her father and feels a resentment toward the family she never knew nor was allowed to be a part of. Meanwhile, Sam befriends her and inserts himself into their lives, becoming the father figure Josh never had.
There's a certain level of discomfort just beneath the surface throughout the film. Sam knows that what he's doing is wrong and his relationship with Frankie very quickly becomes inappropriate. She likes him, and while it's never explicitly stated, you get the sense that she's falling for him. Sam knows this and allows it to happen anyway.
I enjoy Chris Pine as an actor, and he's committed to his role as Sam, but he does nothing to redeem Sam of all of his distasteful actions. He's actually a pretty terrible person and quite far from being someone that the audience empathizes with. He continues to make bad decision after bad decision, each one furthering the fact that he's not worth our time, nor is he worthy of being the main character in the film.
Several other stories are explored, including Sam's major screwup at the beginning of the film that will most likely lead to his prosecution by the Federal Trade Commission; his girlfriend, Hannah (Olivia Wilde) being fed up with his behavior and leaving him early on; and his mother, Lillian (Michelle Pfeiffer) who's quite angry with him because of his absence in her life for the past thirteen years. There's too much going on, and each plot point that's introduced deters the film from what its original intent was.
There's something Kurtzman wants to say about families in his portrayal of the relationships in this film. What that is exactly, I'm unaware of and this film does not do its job in conveying that message. It loses itself in its fear of going deeper into the family dynamics it sets out to explore, and it's one dimensional lead character strips away any heart the film may have had. It's as if Kurtzman was afraid to really dig deep in looking at an estranged family and the consequences that discovering secret sibling can create. At the end of the film you may think you know exactly what Kurtzman wanted to say, but because the film loses itself somewhere in the middle, the original message gets lost in the shuffle.