Reviews

'People Like Us' is Back in Blu-ray with Its Well-Acted Dissection of a Dysfunctional Family

People Like Us illustrates how sometimes people you think you know can surprise you and how complete strangers can become your family.


People Like Us

Director: Alex Kurtzman
Cast: Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks, Michelle Pfeiffer
Distributor: Disney
Rated: PG-13
Release date: 2012-10-02

People Like Us is the story of how a father’s death actually brings him closer to his children. Sam Harper (Chris Pine) is a fast-talking salesman who makes a mistake at work that costs him not only a much-needed commission but possibly his job. His career hanging in the balance, Sam learns that his father, Jerry, has just died, forcing him to drop everything and return to his childhood home for the funeral. Sam also finds out that his father, who was a quasi-famous music producer in Los Angeles, California, has bequeathed him with one last task that turns his world completely upside down. People Like Us illustrates how sometimes people you think you know can surprise you and how complete strangers can become your family.

The day after his father’s funeral, Sam receives a call from his father’s attorney requesting that they meet to discuss the estate. The lawyer informs Sam that the sum of his inheritance is his father Jerry’s extensive and beloved record collection. Jerry has also left Sam a note instructing him to deliver a small leather shaving kit filled with $150,000 to someone named Josh Davis (Michael Hall D’Addario). In addition to an address his father wrote, “Take care of them.”

A bitter Sam decides to try and find out more about this person, who he feels has stolen his rightful inheritance. He heads to the address on the note. As he tries to locate the apartment, he overhears an argument going on between a woman and a boy named Josh. Sam lingers outside their living room window and overhears the woman speaking to someone on the phone. Obviously disturbed by the phone call, she heads to her neighbor Ted’s(Mark Duplass) apartment and asks if he has the previous day’s newspaper. He tells her he does. She finds what she’s looking for and asks Ted to watch Josh while she runs an errand. She drives off, and Sam follows her to a church. Once inside, he realizes that he has walked into an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting.

The woman stands up and introduces herself as Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), and admits that she is an alcoholic. She pulls out the piece of newspaper and starts to read Sam’s father’s obituary, “He is survived by his wife and son.” Frankie then states, “So, it’s official. I don’t exist.” Sam sits in the audience, completely blindsided. Once he recovers from the initial shock, Sam approaches Frankie outside the meeting. He casually introduces himself as simply Sam, and they chat briefly.

He returns to his mother Lillian’s (Michelle Pfeiffer) house where his girlfriend Hannah (Olivia Wilde) has been waiting for him all day. He tells Hannah about his newfound half-sister and shows her the money that he is supposed to relinquish to his nephew. Hannah’s first concern is how he will break this news to his mother. She tells him he has no choice but to tell her, because she’s going to find out that Jerry left them all of this money. Sam replies, “Not if I don’t give it to them.” Hannah looks at him in disbelief. “It’s for me! I’m his son!” Sam explains. “I’m supposed to hand it over with a smile on my face?” They begin to argue, and Sam admits he’s in debt. This is news to Hannah “We’re in debt?” He tells her there is no we. “When were you going to tell me there is no we?” she asks. The argument escalates and there are more revelations. Hannah tells Sam she doesn’t even know him. She calls a cab and leaves.

The next day, Sam sits outside of Josh’s school. When Josh gets on a bus, Sam follows. He finally speaks to Josh when he sees him attempting to shoplift in a record store. It turns out the kid is pretty precocious, and Josh freely discusses with Sam his recent troubles at school (he blew up a pool with sodium from the science lab). Josh even tells Sam that he has to go to therapy. After suggesting some CDs for Josh to purchase, he leaves. As Sam is pulling out of the parking lot, Josh asks him for a ride home. Sam refuses. “Come on, music man, you’re already super weird. It’s not going to get any weirder.” says Josh. On the drive, Sam finds out where Frankie works and gains some insight into how his half-sister and nephew live.

In what has to be one of the worst covert operations ever, Sam “coincidentally” shows up at the bar where Frankie works. She does seem mildly dubious about the run-in but not enough to pursue it. Sam seems determined to tell her of their connection, but loses his nerve. He does manage to extricate information about her relationship with their father. He learns that the man was a part of Frankie’s life until she turned eight years old.

Distracted by this giant revelation, Sam has barely communicated with his mother. When they finally sit down and talk, Lillian tries to get Sam to accept some of the responsibility for the lack of closeness between himself and his father, “He was in and out of the hospital for a year, and you never even called him.” Sam responds, “He didn’t want me around, mom.” She asks him if that what he tells himself. He blames her for allowing Jerry to be a crappy father.

Unable to deal with his mother, and his life in New York in shambles, Sam prepares to head home. He makes one last stop at an AA meeting to say goodbye to Frankie, but they wind up having dinner instead. They spend the time exchanging stories and getting to know each other better. In a matter of days, he manages to immerse himself deeper and deeper into Frankie and Josh’s lives.

Frankie gives Sam insight into a side of his father that he never saw or experienced for himself when the man was alive, “He just had this light. And when he would laugh, it made me feel like I was really funny,” Frankie tells Sam. Making it even harder for Sam to confess is the way she feels about Sam and Lillian. When he asks Frankie if Jerry ever spoke to her about his other family, she says, “I didn’t want to know. I hated them. They got him.”

Sam tries to find ways to make amends; either because of his own deceitfulness or his father’s shortcomings. He also feels camaraderie with her, since neither of them felt close to their father nor got the attention they felt they deserved.

Sam finally hands the money back over to the attorney for him to give to Frankie and Josh. When Frankie tells Sam about her windfall, she says she’s not going to take the money. Sam tries to convince her that would be a mistake. Frankie finally grows suspicious and starts to question his motives. As she inundates him with questions, Sam quickly leaves, unable to be truthful with her.

Home provides no respite, because Sam and Lillian continue to fight about how she turned a blind eye to the problems in their family. Finally, Sam tells her about Frankie. However, he is the one surprised, when he discovers his mother knew. Lillian gave Jerry an ultimatum, and he chose her and Sam.

As the story progresses, all the lying, avoidance, guilt and resentment builds, causing Sam’s life to completely spiral out of control. He tries to make a clean break from Josh and Frankie, which causes Josh to act out. Sam finds himself pulled back in by Frankie, who has come to rely on Sam for emotional support. When it becomes apparent that Frankie has developed romantic feelings for Sam, he is finally forced to tell her the truth. She feels humiliated and betrayed and throws him out of her apartment.

Sam decides for the first time in his life to stay and deal with his problems as opposed to running away. In addition to Josh’s meddling, Lillian comes across something in Jerry’s belongings that helps reunite Sam and Frankie. The item also proves that although their father was deeply flawed, he loved his children.

The Blu-ray special features include deleted/extended scenes, which never serve to enhance the movie. There's a blooper reel and an audio commentary with the film’s director Alex Kurtzman and writer Jody Lambert. There's a behind-the-scenes look at the events that inspired the film. The relationship between the film and actual events is very tenuous. Kurtzman got the idea from his own family. Only Kurtzman was the product of a second marriage, who didn’t meet the children from his father’s first marriage until he was an adult. However, there was a 15 year age gap which makes the lack of contact understandable. The DVD also has an audio commentary with Kurtzman, Elizabeth Banks and Chris Pine.

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