I’m certain that People Like Us didn’t intend to feel so creepy. I’m sure that the hope of Alex Kurtzman, the co-writer and director of the film, was to create a life-affirming story about making peace with one’s difficult childhood and the importance of embracing family.
But why then allow the specter of possible incest to linger over the proceedings for so long?
That may not be fair. It’s not like the movie veers into Through a Glass Darkly territory. It’s just that there was a scene or two staged as though the characters were appearing in a standard romantic drama, and which were excruciating to sit through, since they depict a brother and sister getting to know one another. Worse yet, he knows the truth about their relationship while she doesn’t. And all the while the movie strains to be heartwarming.
He’s Sam (Chris Pine), a smooth-talking salesman who returns to Los Angeles after the death of his record producer father. His dad was a selfish prick and his mother (Michelle Pfeiffer) emotionally distant, so he didn’t have a particularly happy childhood and only reluctantly travels to the funeral at the urging of his patient girlfriend (Olivia Wilde).
A lawyer (Philip Baker Hall) gives Sam his inheritance, which includes a bag filled with $150,000 cash and a note instructing him to pass it on to someone named Josh Davis at an address elsewhere in Los Angeles. Soon Sam learns that 10-year-old Josh (Michael Hall D’Addario) is his nephew, the son of Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), a half-sister that Sam never knew he had.
Sam has grown into a bit of a selfish prick himself, and since he’s heavily in debt he’s uncertain whether he’ll pass the money on to Josh. Still, he’s curious about his newfound relatives. He strikes up a friendship with Frankie, without revealing his own identity, by following her to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and her workplace, a bar at a fancy downtown LA hotel.
Suddenly it feels like we’re watching Jerry Maguire. Sam adores her kid, and the three of them gallivant about Los Angeles, remembering to bring along a flip camera to record the fun so that they can watch it later, during the inevitable remember-how-much-fun-you-me-and-Sam-had-before-there-was-a-falling-out-and-the-movie-reached-its-saddest-segment scene.
Frankie tells Sam that she’d been able to spend time with her father until she was 8, when he suddenly stopped coming to visit. She shares her desperate, failed attempt to reconnect with the man when she was a teenager and how he again turned her away. Sam realizes that the father that he’d come to hate was someone whom Frankie would have given anything to be able to know.
And, all this time, Frankie must be thinking that Sam is romancing her. She’d have to, given the evidence. So inevitably comes the scene where she’s casting bedroom eyes, and finally all the secrets must be revealed, and it’s just awful. I felt just awful for her and angry at the movie for allowing the idiocy of Sam’s character that led to it.
This is a mainstream Hollywood entertainment, therefore it’s obvious where it will go from there. I found the final act strangely comforting in its predictability (aside from the risible emotional manipulation of giving Sam’s mother a health scare of her own), probably because of the foul aftertaste that remained from what came before.