In the same way that one can support the troops but hate the war, or love the player but hate the game, one can appreciate actors even while disliking the movie in which they’re working their tails off.
That would be the case with “People Like Us,” a maudlin comic drama about a feckless young man who discovers as an adult that his recently deceased father also secretly had a daughter with another woman.
Chris Pine plays Sam, a fast-talking salesman who relies on charm and a gift for schmoozing to get by in life. The movie’s opening scenes, in which we watch him verbally hustle clients, have an energy and offhandedness that soon go missing.
Sam’s dad dies, and he is curiously reluctant about heading back to Los Angeles for the funeral. Once he does, girlfriend (Olivia Wilde) in tow, he is surprised to learn from an old colleague of his father’s that he has an adult half-sister he never knew about.
She’s Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), a single mom with a precocious young son (Michael Hall D’Addario). Frankie lives in a dumpy apartment and is trying to make ends meet as a cocktail waitress at a hotel bar. Without revealing their familial connection, Sam befriends her and her son.
It’s this last bit that’s the sticking point. The movie drags on and on with Sam essentially stalking Frankie without telling her who he really is or disclosing the blood connection between them. It doesn’t ring true dramatically, registering instead as an artificial means of keeping the ball bobbing on the strained plot. If Sam just ‘fessed up, we could all be out of there in 30 minutes flat.
The movie is directed by Alex Kurtzman, who again teams on the screenplay with Roberto Orci, his co-writer on “Transformers,” “Star Trek” and “Cowboys & Aliens.” He comes across in his maiden directing effort as a Cameron Crowe-wannabe, only without Crowe’s sharp eye for the revealing detail or ear for memorable dialogue.
The cast works hard and tirelessly but can’t surmount the material. Banks comes off best (is it just me, or does she have the exact same vocal inflections as Parker Posey?), creating a character who is equal parts toughness and vulnerability. Michelle Pfeiffer also registers strongly as Sam’s mother, a woman who isn’t about to give up her secrets.
As for Pine, trying here to move beyond action hero roles, he’s all big, glistening puppy eyes and hidden hurt. You can see him acting with a capital “A”, chewing on the role as if mistaking it for steak after a steady diet of cold cuts.
One hates to be unkind to “People Like Us,” given that Hollywood studios make so few small, domestic dramas. But it plays so patently false that it’s more “People Like Them” –them being specious characters who exist only in movies — than us.