“People Like Us”
It’s difficult to talk about this
movie without a little gentle spoiling. Suffice
it to say, in this paragraph, that it’s not a romantic comedy, it’s a
family drama. It’s about real
characters with real flaws who stumble through their lives trying to figure
things out, and often making a mess of it, but they mean well.
At least most of the time. They
just have difficulty getting over themselves long enough to be helpful to
OK, now to a little plot revealing, most
of which you can get from the trailers, anyway.
Sam (Chris Pine) is a smooth-talking salesman.
He says he deals in “bartering,” trading in excess goods and
serving as the liaison between buyer and seller. But there’s a bit of the
scam artist somewhere in that rapid delivery, and we find out from his
unsympathetic boss that Sam is really living on the edge right now.
That’s when he goes home to his girlfriend, Hannah (Olivia Wilde),
who’s been waiting to tell him the traumatic news that his father has died.
Sam has lots of negative memories of his
Dad, a rock music producer who didn’t seem to have any time for him when he
was growing up, and now Sam has reciprocated as an adult.
Didn’t fly across the country to see him when he was sick, and now,
manages to passive-aggressive his way to being late for the funeral, much to
the added sorrow of his mother, Lillian (Michelle Pfeiffer).
Sam even has a hard time going through
some of his father’s things, thinking he really should be somewhere else.
But something life-altering happens when he meets with the family
lawyer: he’s given a battered old
toiletry bag that just happens to have a lot of cash stuffed in it, with a
note attached to give this to his sister to help raise his nephew.
Except Sam didn’t know he even had a sister, much less a nephew.
While people are calling from work
threatening him with everything from firing to criminal prosecution, Sam
decides he has to look up Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), who’s an alcoholic
bartender (go figure), working double-shifts trying to be a single Mom to Josh
(Michael Hall D’Addario), a moody, quirky, sometimes surly kid who seems to
get in a lot of trouble at school.
Sam messes up big-time, by not being
able to bring himself to tell Frankie who he is, but he acts like he’s
really interested in her and her kid, and even goes to an AA meeting with her,
so, naturally, she misinterprets. By
the time he finally, reluctantly, tells her the truth, she has made a fool out
of herself, given the circumstances, and doesn’t want to speak to him any
more. And she, having first been only
the love child of her father and then abandoned completely, doesn’t want
anything from that scoundrel, either. She
had to find out he’d died by her sponsor telling her that he saw the obit in
Sam’s relationship with his Mother is
obviously in need of repair, also. Family
secrets have been coming between them for a long time, anyway, and now he
learns she’s been sick and hasn’t been telling him.
So now, after Sam’s tension of “How do I tell her?” it’s the
additional tension of “Should I stay or should I go?” This is further
complicated by the fact that Hannah has become thoroughly disgusted with him,
also, and has gone back home. Now Sam
has somehow managed to achieve the emotional baggage trifecta:
all three of the women in his life are now furious with him.
But despite the viewer being frustrated
by these continually unresolved tensions, they’re also what propels the
movie forward. There’s some humor,
but not much. There’s some language,
and some “adult situations,” but this one isn’t about joking around and
it isn’t about sex. It’s about real
people trying to deal with life changes that really throw them for a loop.
The characters are so real that you hurt for them.
And then you root for them. It’s
both gut-wrenching and heart-warming. But
of course all the folks who go to the movies for light entertainment will take
their money elsewhere.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St.
Stephen’s Presbyterian Church,