Alex Kurtzman is one half of screenwriting power duo Kurtzman and Orci, who are responsible for box office behemoths like the first two Transformers movies, Mission: Impossible III, Star Trek and television shows like Alias, Hawaii Five-O and Fringe. None of this stuff really screams ‘deep character drama’ so it is a little curious that the man chose People Like Us as his feature film directorial debut.
The broad plot for People Like Us goes something like this: When Sam’s (Chris Pine) father dies, he learns that his old man had a kid by another woman. And Daddy Dearest wants him to deliver a tidy chunk of change–150 thousand dollars!–to his grandson Josh (Michael Hall D’Addario). Of course Sam wants nothing to do with this because he needs the money for himself. And he is not totally happy with the fact that his father had this deep dark secret he was keeping from him.
But of course this is a movie (supposedly based on true events) so Sam snoops on Josh and his mother Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) and—surprise, surprise—he discovers that Frankie and Josh could really use the money. They live in a cheap motel, she has a problem with alcohol addiction, and the kid is not exactly the model child. So what does Sam do? He starts hanging out with the sister he didn’t know he had, and his nephew. Without telling them the truth about himself.
Mr. Pine and Ms. Banks are solid performers and as the movie progresses they start to really give the sense that they might be siblings. Mr. D’Addarrio does good work with his character as well. And these are really the only characters of consequence in the movie. Olivia Wilde (as Sam’s girlfriend) and Michelle Pfeiffer (as his mother) do not get roles with enough meat. Consequently their characters become easily forgettable.
So it’s not really the performances, or the storytelling that is the big problem with People Like Us. It is the story itself. The trailers did not give any clue to the ickiness of the concept. Guy knows Girl is his sister but she doesn’t, so-o-o-o…she kinda thinks he’s hitting on her. And she’s not averse to the idea.
Also, the movie never quite finds its tonal happy place. Because I’ll tell you this: structuring this story like a romantic comedy only makes a lot of people very very uncomfortable.