People Like Us | Movie review
An autobiographically inspired movie suggests that real life can look like a Cameron Crowe film.
People Like Us is the feature-directing debut of Star Trek and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen screenwriter Alex Kurtzman—but if you didn’t see his byline, you’d be forgiven for assuming Cameron Crowe was at the helm. Mashing elements of Jerry Maguire and Elizabethtown, the story follows Sam (Chris Pine), a white-collar NYC barterer with less-than-stellar ethics. Just as he falls under investigation for a food-shipment scandal, he learns his chronically distracted music-producer father has died. With some reluctance, Sam jets to L.A., where Dad’s lawyer slips him a Dopp kit and tells him to give the contents—$150,000—to stranger Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), a single, alcoholic mother with a precocious but troubled child (Michael Hall D’Addario). Who is she? And why does she have Sam’s father’s eyes?
It helps to know the movie was inspired by Kurtzman’s meeting with a half-sister he never knew, although the director, unlike Sam, didn’t have the opportunity to keep his identity secret. As Pine’s shark swims his way into Frankie’s life, making himself indispensable—in the most Crowe-like development, he gives the kid a pop-music education—the movie mines suspense from his failure to confess. The perpetual magic-hour lighting and Screenwriting 101 contrivances (Sam ignores calls from authorities investigating him) also feel pointlessly artificial. Still, like Crowe’s best films, People Like Us titrates its sentimentality with strong performances—not just Pine’s and Banks’s, but Pfeiffer’s turn as Sam’s embittered, suspicious mom. If we must have schmaltz, make it schmaltz like this.