It seems odd that, in a season known for blockbusters and feel-good kids movies, Dreamworks would opt to release a complex family drama. What makes the vehicle even more puzzling is the fact that it's driven by a screenwriter more well known for his action work (Alex Kurtzman), a lead actor most people still recognize as James T. Kirk from 2009's "Star Trek" (Chris Pine) and a lead actress who, while slightly more diverse, comes to mind more for her comedy work than anything else (Elizabeth Banks).
There's no denying it's unusual. But, despite its motley make-up, "People Like Us" works.
The movie centers around Pine's character, Sam, who flies back home after the death of his emotionally distant father. Sam's world turns upside down when he discovers through his inheritance that he has a half sister, Frankie, and is suddenly forced to reconcile this previously unknown part of his family's life with the one he grew up with.
Adding a new family member to his small circle of relationships isn't easy for Sam, but it's much more natural than navigating his current ones. As Sam tentatively develops a friendship with his new-found sister and her young son (Michael Hall D'Addario), the audience gets to see firsthand how fractured his relationship was with his father, and still is with his mother, Lillian (Michelle Pfeiffer).
As the plot moves forward and Sam learns more about what caused the rift between Frankie and their father, the audience in turn gains a greater perspective on each family member's motivations. Fault and blame get shifted, and the line between "right" and "wrong" choices gets blurred as Sam, Frankie and Lillian work to understand their past and move forward.
Ironically, the only thing that really works against the film is its actors' own reputations. Their names will certainly help draw curious moviegoers in to see it, but their collective on-screen presence sometimes overwhelms the delicate story.
"People Like Us" is a poignant commentary on people and the fallibility of their choices – even when those choices are made with good intentions. It's humorous at times and heartfelt throughout, but most of all it's a touching, multifaceted look at how love for family motivates people.
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