Review of People Like Us

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A young businessman (played by Chris Pine) returns home after his estranged father's sudden death, only to uncover a devastating family secret which in turn sends him on an unexpected journey of self-discovery. Michelle Pfeiffer, Olivia Wilde & Elizabeth Banks also star.
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Movie Review: "People Like Us" --

Rating: PG-13 (language, some drug use, brief sexuality)
Length: 115 minutes
Release Date: June 29, 2012
Directed by: Alex Kurtzman
Genre: Drama
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

In "People Like Us," a crucial secret that would take just seconds to reveal threatens to unravel the entire story of two people who didn't realize that they had siblings. Though a big secret like this that is left hanging over a movie for the first two acts can be frustrating, in this film it actually is a good thing. By not revealing the secret until the end, it allows the audience to really get drawn in by the characters without the added drama of the secret reveal.

The big secret is being kept by Sam (Chris Pine), who has to deliver a bag full of money to his half-sister Frankie (Elizabeth Banks). His father was a cold and distant man who never did tell him that he had a second family on the side. He spent most of his time reveling in his own grandeur as a record producer. He is so cold, in fact, that Sam didn't really even want to go home for the funeral. He even tries a desperate move to make him and girlfriend Hannah (Olivia Wilde) miss their plane. At the last minute, he reluctantly boards and goes home to find out about Frankie.

Sam's dad also didn't tell wife Lillian (Michelle Pfeiffer) about Frankie. Sam is now burdened not only with having to deliver the money to Frankie but also with keeping the secret from Lillian, who is already in mourning.

Sam sets off to do the task, finding Frankie at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. It seems Frankie is a troubled woman who is just trying to stay sober. Her equally troubled son, Josh (Michael Hall D'Addario), seems depressed half the time. They have issues but generally are just trying to get through life together.

Sam could easily have introduced himself as her brother when he meets Frankie. Of course, if he did, there would be no story. He falsely lets Frankie believe that he is in AA as well, and they strike up a conversation. Their rapport is an easy one, like two siblings should have. Sam starts to realize that he really likes the idea of having a sister and continues to visit with Frankie and Josh. He learns from them and confides in them. That is, he confides everything except that fact that he is Frankie's brother and that he has $150,000 to give her.

The secret will inevitably come out. The audience knows this, but the revelation of the secret is not the real point of the movie. The point is the journey and how Sam begins to warm up and become much more human than the closed-up man he had become. The point is how Frankie comes to deeply care about Sam, even after an awkward attempt at romance with him (as she doesn't know he is her brother). There is a saying that the point of life is not the destination but the journey, and that is true in "People Like Us."

There is an additional wrench thrown into the mix when Sam, who is facing some financial troubles when he gets home, considers keeping the money for himself. It is the true test of whether he has actually grown as a person.

Director Alex Kurtzman not only directed the film but also co-wrote it with his writing and production partner Roberto Orci. They had previously worked on the 2009 "Star Trek" reboot, which starred Pine as the lead role of Captain Kirk. This film allows both writers and Pine to really stretch their legs. Kurtzman and Orci do something other than science fiction or action, and Pine gets to play a character who is not cocky or arrogant in any way. In fact, Pine turns in a performance that is so good that it should notch him a few more dramatic roles as a result.

Pfeiffer is underused as the matriarch of the family. Being the veteran that she is, she does manage to take full advantage of her limited screen time. Also turning in a shining performance is young Michael Hall D'Addario, whose interaction with Banks is completely believable. Don't be surprised to see him have a long career.

The audience will be actively rooting for both Josh and Frankie to get a happy ending. Whether they do or not is up to a flawed but very human character in Sam, who the audience will also find themselves rooting for by the time the credits roll.