Rare is the film that ends exactly how you know it will end without insulting your intelligence in getting there. Happily, People LIke Us is one of those rare films.
The premise is pretty straightforward:
"On the day his latest deal collapses, fast-talking salesman Sam receives the news that his father has died. Sam reluctantly returns home to settle his father's estate. In the course of carrying out the man's last wishes, Sam discovers the existence of a 30-year-old sister named Frankie, whom he never knew about. As Sam and Frankie get to know each other, Sam must re-examine both his perceptions about his family and his own life choices."
That's it, that's all – film over. But this story is told with such beautiful depth and character development that you forget you know exactly how it's going to end…you're just glad and interested as to how it goes the way you knew it would.
The strained relationships in need of redemption are multiple – slick Sam (Chris Pine) and his half-sister, Frankie (Elizabeth Banks); single mother Frankie and her acting-out middle school son, Josh (Michael Hall D'Addario); rebellious Josh and his grandmother, Lillian (Michelle Pfeiffer); lonely Lillian and her son, Sam; Sam and his heart-of-gold girlfriend, Hannah (Olivia Wilde) – with all of them being affected or having something to do with the dead patriarch of the family, Jerry (Dean Chekvala), a semi-famous (but past-his-prime) record producer who put his music before his morals in Los Angeles in the 1970s. Despite my skepticism going in, the redemption is genuine and complete (but far from cheap).
The roles are well-acted (Pine is strong as Sam, but Banks' performance as Frankie is particularly compelling), and the characters are well-developed through a script coming (perhaps surprisingly) from writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, who worked with Pine on the Star Trek reboot from 2009, as well as writing other action films including Mission: Impossible III and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. While I've not seen any of the Transformers movies, I liked what they did in humanizing Star Trek and MI:III and hope they continue sowing their writing talents in other genres as well.
The film's language (as well as one very brief scene of sexuality) makes this one a true PG-13, but while there were perhaps a couple of times when the dialogue seemed more profanity-laced than needed, the majority made sense in the context of the brokenness of the story. One thing that was nice was how the brother/sister relationship (though known only by Sam through most of the film) kept the sexual tension toned down and him faithful to his girlfriend (at least as faithful as one can be without being married).
People Like Us is what movies like this should be. Yes, the story is predictable, but the fulfillment of watching it unfold is pleasantly surprising. Opens today. Four of five stars.