Movie review: 'People Like Us' gets tangled in family affairs


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Just spit it out, man.

You may think that while watching "People Like Us," in which Chris Pine plays Sam, a fast-talking businessman forced to return to his native California for his father's funeral. He misses the service but not the bombshell that comes after, courtesy of his dad's lawyer.

His father, a music producer of some note, left behind a monogrammed leather shaving kit with $150,000 for a boy who turns out to be Sam's nephew, the child of his half-sister, Frankie. Sam has spent his life believing he was an only child, and now he has a sibling, a nephew and a whale of a decision on his hands.


'People Like Us'

2.5 stars = Average
Ratings explained
  • Starring: Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks, Michelle Pfeiffer.
  • Rating: PG-13 for language, some drug use and brief sexuality.

Should he turn over the cash, which he needs? Inform his widowed mother (Michelle Pfeiffer), who views his father through rose-colored glasses while Sam harbors years of anger? Blurt out the news to unknowing Frankie or her 11-year-old son, Josh (Michael Hall D'Addario)? Or stay in the shadows?

By allowing Sam to delay or avoid the inevitable, "People Like Us" skirts very close to creepy territory. When Sam reaches out to Josh, the boy eyes the stranger with wariness while Frankie assumes Sam wants to hit on her, like most of the men she encounters at her bartender job.

Rather than creating suspense and drama, the screenplay tends to generate impatience. However, the acting in a cast that also includes Olivia Wilde as Sam's girlfriend, Philip Baker Hall as an attorney pal of Sam's father and Mark Duplass as one of Frankie's neighbors elevates the movie above the cable-TV level.

Was the movie "inspired by true events" as it claims? Well, director and co-writer Alex Kurtzman knew that his father had been married before and had two other children. One day, a woman walked up to him at a party and said, "I'm your sister."

Co-writer Roberto Orci had an aunt whose father had a secret family, and the two men joined forces with a third, Jody Lambert, to write the screenplay, which embroiders the sibling plot with all sorts of other complications for the adults and young Josh.

"People Like Us" (an awful forgettable title) proves what many people know. Family trees can be tangled, labyrinthine affairs, but they can also be alive with affection, shared memories and bonds that will not break.

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Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies. First Published June 29, 2012 4:00 AM


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