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People Like Us is not simply the heart-wrenching turned uplifting tale of a brother earning the love and respect of the sister he formerly didn’t know existed, although that is a part of the story. Slow and meandering from the start, People Like Us tells a story about numerous broken relationships and the potential moments where fixing them becomes possible. Some of these threads work, and some of them are as glossy as the film’s trailer.
We meet Sam (Chris Pine) in the middle of a really bad day. He’s having some major issues at work, and to make matters worse, his estranged father has died after a battle with cancer. When Sam travels back to Los Angeles with his girlfriend, Hannah (Olivia Wilde), Sam learns his father has left over $100 thousand dollars to a sister he’s never met. Sam decides to enter Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) and her young son, Josh’s (Michael Hall D’Addario) life, without telling them why he’s around. He seems to be pondering keeping the money, but as we soon see, People Like Us isn’t really that kind of movie.
Instead, it’s a movie about the choices we make in our lives and relationships. Of course, that kind of stuff can be a little maudlin, and some extra conflict had to come from somewhere. Thus convoluting the plot is some trouble Sam left behind in New York. At some point along the way, the FTC becomes involved, and now Sam is getting calls concerning subpoenas and other various ‘serious business’ threats. The only good that comes out of this is a short cameo from Jon Favreau, who has the unique capability to take over the screen, even when he is only on for a few minutes.
At some point we meet Sam’s mother (Michelle Pfeiffer), who seems to be trying to avoid some selfish past decisions, and at another point Hannah makes her great escape back to New York City. Unfortunately, the script sort of fails both of them, which wouldn’t be nearly as big of a deal if they had remained complete side characters for the duration of the movie. Instead, the script eventually wraps up the two characters plotlines as neatly as a goddamn Christmas present.
People Like Us isn’t the movie you saw in the trailer. It tries to go deeper and darker with (probably too many of) its characters, and first time director Alex Kurtzman tries to give audiences a film with a little bit of edge. Want to see Elizabeth Banks totally lose herself and beat someone up? Check. Want to watch a really bizarre drug use scene where a self-help album takes the focus? Check. Kurtzman even throws some cool cut-to shots into the mix, including one at the beginning where a scene featuring airplane rows jumps to a similar scene showing the pews in a church. There are certainly some outside-the-box ideas being employed, but they film as a whole would have been served better by a less stylistic format.
Life is messy. People Like Us knows this at the beginning, and makes the best of it, but along the way the movie hits so many extremes it stops being messy and becomes a mess. What’s most bothersome about this is that the hook is believable. Sam and Frankie are believable.As they continue to meander on their journey, however, you may find yourself losing track.
When you pause the Blu-ray, an awesome pop-up shows up in the corner, highlighting the scene, as well as the exact time you paused. This is a big pro for me, since sometimes I get involved with laundry, etc. and my player will shut off after a while. It’s a genius idea for constant pausers to find the scene where he or she started or stopped.
The big "Making of" segment is called “Number One With a Bullet: The Story Behind People Like Us” on this disc. Unsurprisingly, People Like Us is a vaguely personal story. Kurtzman had half-siblings that were far younger than him that he reconnected with later in life. The rest of the segment bloviates about the seven years it took to “collect” the rest of the story, whatever that means.
The biggest theme that keeps coming up in the bonus features are the actors, the writers, and the crew all putting pieces of themselves into the picture so that the characters and the setting would feel authentic to L.A. Even the commentary and the deleted scenes have personalized touches to them, and they go really in depth into why decisions were made during shooting and with the script. They also serve to highlight how much Olivia Wilde’s character was cut out in the film. The script certainly needing cutting, but I’m not sure if basically taking Wilde’s character out, only to bring her back in the finale, made the changes they wanted.
There’s plenty of commentary on the disc, including feature commentary, segments discussing the deleted and extended scenes, and even a whole section of select scene commentary. With movies like this, it’s a little difficult to get through more than an hour and half of commentary, and it was nice to have an abridged option that was scene specific.
There are more extras with the set, including “Bloopers” and “Taco Tale,” but those are mostly filler. As a whole, the set makes a big point of introducing the idea that the film is based on a true story. It’s a fine enough set, but the repeated emotional tugs may actually do the opposite and trigger a lack of empathy in viewers. Just because you have a story to tell, doesn’t mean you necessarily should.
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