There are skeletons aplenty cluttering up one family’s closet in Alex Kurtzman’s semi-autobiographical drama.
A son estranged from his duplicitous father; a mother concealing personal tragedy; a secret love child ravaged by addiction; and a troubled boy raging against school bullies: these are the dysfunctional archetypes of the frothy soap opera.
People Like Us is an engaging yet formulaic ensemble piece, which marks the directorial debut of the Star Trek and Transformers screenwriter.
Strong performances from the female leads compensate for haphazard plotting, uneven pacing, flimsy characterisation and occasional detours from logic.
Elizabeth Banks plunders the emotional depths of her ballsy single parent, who has ricocheted from one unedifying relationship to the next and has forgotten what it means to be loved.
Meanwhile, a luminous Michelle Pfeiffer embraces her role as a steely matriarch, who greets the return of her selfish son with a swift, stinging slap across the face.
Home is where the heartache is.
Sam (Chris Pine) is a fast-talking salesman or “facilitator”, who seeks out businesses with surplus stock and sets up deals to offload the goods in exchange for a generous cut of the profits.
“Paper is paper but goods are good,” he tells one potential client with a wolfish grin.
Sam sometimes cuts corners to maximise profit, so when he transports a shipment of soup via train through Mexico and the goods explode in the sweltering heat, the Federal Trade Commission swoops to prosecute the fast-talking trader.
Soon after, Sam learns that his estranged 63-year-old father (Dean Chekvala) has died from cancer.
Girlfriend Hannah (Olivia Wilde) makes the necessary arrangements to ensure he attends the funeral in Los Angeles.
The reunion with his mother Lillian (Michelle Pfeiffer) is tense and to rub salt into Sam’s old wounds, he inherits nothing more than his father’s vinyl collection and old leather shaving bag in the will.
Inside the bag, Sam discovers 150,000 dollars and instructions to deliver the money to someone called Josh Davis.
Sam heads to a motel where he finds troubled 11-year-old Josh (Michael Hall D’Addario), whose single mother Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) is a recovering alcoholic.
She conceals a secret that rocks Sam’s world and forces him to re-evaluate his priorities.
People Like Us begins at a brisk pace with Sam’s world collapsing around him.
Once he begins to stalk Frankie and Josh, the script treads water for too long before lighting a fuse on the emotional fireworks that detonate in the final 30 minutes.
Pine and D’Addario are solid in undemanding roles but many supporting characters are underwritten, not least Wilde’s love interest, who exists solely to dodge icky romantic complications between Sam and Frankie.
Kurtzman doesn’t demonstrate any directorial brio, preferring to keep his camera pointing at the actors and let them do all the talking.
By Damon Smith
:: SWEARING :: NO SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 5/10
Released: November 9 (UK & Ireland), 114 mins