People Like Us is being released by Disney, one of the major studios. It comes out today, June 29—a day which, in the northern hemisphere at least, is considered part of “summer.” These two facts are very difficult to reconcile. Since the dawn of time, studios have used the summer as a dumping ground for 3D movies about aliens, robots, or vampires, and People Like Us is none of these. Even more remarkable: The movie makes use of things that, once upon a time, used to be called “characters”, “dialogue”, and “story.” Had it been released in October, People Like Us would no doubt be regarded as a quintessential example of Oscar bait. How did this happen? Someone at Disney may want to double check their last shipment of calendars. I have a feeling there may have been a serious misprint.
It would be tempting to award People Like Us an automatic five stars just on the basis of what it’s not. Unfortunately what it is is a repetitive, overwrought soap opera—albeit an extremely well-made and well-acted one. The story focuses on Sam (Chris Pine), a hot shot entrepreneur whose money-saving business tactics have horribly backfired on him, landing him both in debt and in trouble with the law. To top it off, he learns that his father has died—although this proves to be the least of his concerns. After making a half-hearted attempt at skipping out on the funeral, he meets with his father’s lawyer, who gives him a satchel with $150,00 in it—just enough for him to get out of debt. Unfortunately, the satchel comes with a note instructing him to give the money to the son of the half-sister (Elizabeth Banks) that he never knew he had. He introduces himself to his half-sister at an AA meeting, but neglects to tell her that they’re related and that he has $150,000 to give her. Gradually, he becomes a bigger and bigger part of his half-sister’s life, all the while keeping his identity concealed.
It doesn’t take long for the movie to hit a brick wall. After about 20 minutes of pretending to be a non-relative, Sam is tempted to tell his half-sister the truth. But then he gets a phone call reminding him that he’s in debt and abandons the idea. After another 20 minutes, Sam is once again tempted to tell his half-sister the truth. But then he gets another phone call reminding him that he’s in debt and he once again abandons the idea. Another 20 minutes go by and Sam is once again tempted to tell her the truth. But then the phone rings, etc. After awhile, the movie starts feeling like a remake of Groundhog Day.
On the plus side, the acting is uniformly excellent. Chris Pine, who had been perfectly adequate in Star Trek and Unstoppable, is particularly good here. His scenes with Michelle Pfieffer, who plays his mother, are as electrifying as anything onscreen this year and would probably garner serious Oscar buzz if only the script were a bit better.
Around the time This Means War came out, Pine had a very public falling out with his old agent. If People Like Us is representative of the kind of work that his new agent is getting him, then he seems to be in very good hands.