Hollywood seems to be going back to basics, something that should have been a long time ago. In Alex Kurtzman’s directorial debut People Like Us, the audience gets a film made with not only a lot of heart but a lot of soul as well.
Considering Kurtzman’s track record that says quite a lot. With his writing partner Robert Orci, the two have penned some of the biggest action blockbusters of the last decade. The team is responsible for everything from J.J. Abram’s Star Trek to Michael Bay’s Transformers.
Unlike those CGI filled summer movies, People Like Us tells the story of a man desperately searching for identity and not finding easy answers. Sam (Chris Pine) is a fast-talking salesman in New York who has just found out his father has died. The two have never gotten along and he is reluctant to even go back to Los Angeles for the funeral. After his girlfriend (Oliva Wilde) coaxes him onto the plane, they arrive late but in time enough to deal with his father’s affairs.
Sam has never had the best relationship and has spent most of his life running away from his father. That all changes when his father’s lawyer gives him a mysterious bag filled with $150,000 he is supposed to give to a woman (Elizabeth Banks) he has never met. After following her he finds, much to his surprise, she is his estranged sister. Unable to comprehend the news that his father had another family he finds himself in a struggling for answers while attempting to understand his father by getting to know his estranged sister. The only problem is, after introducing himself to her at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting he has no idea how to tell her that they are related.
While all of this may sound like a deep melodrama, Kurtzman takes an almost whimsical approach to the subject. It is clear he has a serious ‘crush’ on Cameron Crowe, as the film will instantly be mistaken for one. The fantastic dialogue combined with an amazing soundtrack has all the marks of a great Crowe film without actually having been made by him.
The story itself feels like something that has been done many times, but the characters and music elevates the movie immensely. Having been in the business long enough, Kurtzman and Orci know how to write compelling characters. Their ability to make the dialogue feel fresh and organic is a welcome change compared to much of the forced dialogue of most summer movies. As the title explains, these really are people just like us. The story could happen to any of us and is presented in a real enough fashion that we never question the details.
A lot of this has to do with the actors. While Pine owes much of his fame to Kurtzman’s writing on Star Trek it is clear that with films like This Means War and Unstoppable, he is making every effort not to be typecast. As Sam he is allowed to really spread his wings and shine. Yes he plays the character as cocky but full of layers and flaws. The same can be said of Elizabeth Banks as his sister Frankie. Playing both a recovering alcoholic and a single mother with daddy issues, Banks plays the role with just the right amount of drama. She makes it a part of her character without ever letting it define her.
The biggest standout performance belongs to Michael Hall D’Addario as her son Josh. Only twelve years old, D’Addario brings a tremendous amount of range to the role and manages to deliver some of the most memorable lines in the movie. Keep an eye on him, he’s going to be a big player in the industry.
People Like Us is a film full of surprises. At its heart it is a tale about finding your place in the world and truly becoming a family. Usually during screenings critics make a point of staying neutral and tend to be pretty quiet after the movie is over. But by the time the credits rolled, the entire room broke out in applause and many could be seen holding back tears.
Now that he has made his debut, Kurtzman has sent a message to Hollywood that he is not simply an action powerhouse. The team is more than capable of creating masterful work in any genre.
People Like Us premiered at the LA Film Festival. Check out our red carpet photos! The film opens nationwide June 29th.