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Jun, 2012

Movie Review: People Like Us

Last night I saw an advanced screening of the new Dreamworks drama/comedy, People Like Us, starring Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks, Michelle Pfeiffer and Michael Hall D’Daddario. Plot summary goes that Sam (Pine) finds his estranged father has died and reluctantly returns home to Los Angeles hoping to inherit some money but instead finds out he has a 30 year old sister and young nephew. A result of his father’s extra-marital affair. As this relationship develops, Sam is forced to examine everything he believed to be true about his family and reevaluate his own life choices.

First off, I liked this movie a lot. It’s not the best drama in the world, but it’s a pretty darn good one. Dreamworks is selling it as a “dramedy” but there’s very little “medy”to it. It’s mostly drama and pretty heavy at that. The young Josh (D’Daddario) lends a few laughs to the picture, here and there, but overall it’s a serious film about family and relationships. Bring tissues.

Their are many strong points to this film – the acting is excellent and so it the direction. I was especially impressed with, well all of the main characters I mentioned in the first sentence up there, but Michelle Pfeiffer is great as the grieving widow and distant mother. Nice to see her playing her age and doing it well – wrinkles and all! The young boy in the film, Michael Hall D’Daddrio, is fantastic. I’m always amazed by superb child actors and he really does a great job delivering a wide range of subtle emotion over the span of a very large and demanding role for a kid his age. Pine and Banks were also super watchable and each of them delivered layered characters that were believable and compelling. The only kind of wasted role was Sam’s girlfriend, Hannah, played by Olivia Wilde. She did a fine job with a boring role that was mostly about exposition. And of course, the wonderful Philip Baker Hall as the attorney and long time friend of the deceased father, was as natural and seamless as ever. One of my favorites!

I found it interesting that the movie is loosely based on the real life events of writer/director, Alex Kurtzman who knew his father had had a family before his but never knew them. He then met his half-sister for the first time, completely by chance, at a party on the very same day he was thinking about writing a script about a guy meeting a long lost sister. Wacky!

The film has well developed characters and natural dialogue and only loses a little of that tightness at the end, when things feel a little more contrived at times, but not to the point where it ruins the rest. Not even close. My main complaint was the score. Composer A.R. Rahman is a two time Academy Award winning composer, but his work just didn’t jive with me on this one. Right from the beginning of the movie, the scoring felt a little too movie of the week-ish to me and was often overly sentimental and somewhat insipid. It was overly pronounced and I feel a good musical score should support, not manipulate above and beyond the actors’ performances. But maybe you love sap and you’ll love the score. Me, not so much.

However, the use of other music throughout the film was very good (the deceased father was an old school rock music producer) and songs by Bob Dylan, The Clash, Foghat, Loose Fur, James Gang, Charles Mingus and more are strategically placed and appreciated.

I wouldn’t categorize this as a total “chick flick” but it’s a drama and it’s not a good date movie. Go with someone you don’t mind crying in front of and maybe even see it with your brother or sister and have a feel good family date. From a professional point of view, it’s refreshing to see actors acting, writers writing and directors directing in something original again. Remember? That’s what movies used to be. For this reason alone, it is worth seeing.

People Like Us opens nationwide June 29, 2012.

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