There are moments when the drama “People Like Us” could easily wallow in cheap melodrama — but first-time director Alex Kurtzman nimbly dodges the worst excesses of this kind of dysfunctional family drama.
Sam (Chris Pine) is a fast-talking salesman whose latest deal has landed him in trouble with the Federal Trade Commission, just as he’s flown off to Los Angeles for the funeral of his record-producer father. His dad’s will leaves Sam with a package containing $150,000 and a mission: to give that money to 11-year-old Josh (Michael Hall D’Addario), the son of Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), the half-sister Sam never knew he had. Sam gets to know Frankie, a recovering alcoholic, and Josh without revealing the truth to them or to Sam’s mother (Michelle Pfeiffer).
Kurtzman and co-writers Roberto Orci (Kurtzman’s writing partner on “Transformers” and “Star Trek” movies) and Jody Lambert avoid the usual melodrama cliches by focusing tightly on the specific emotional arcs of these troubled characters and by setting up situations that feel authentic. (The movie, we are told, is “inspired by true events” — though that phrase usually covers a multitude of storytelling sins.)
The strength of the film, though, comes from Banks’ rough-and-ready performance as Frankie, the tough-as-nails single mom who doesn’t let Sam, or the screenwriters, get away with easy explanations.
‘People Like Us’
Opens today theaters everywhere; rated PG-13 for language, some drug use and brief sexuality; 115 minutes.