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Blu-ray Review: People Like Us (2012)

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Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci are, generally speaking, known for their sci-fi work.  Amongst their credits are television shows like Alias and Fringe and movies like 2009’s Star Trek, its sequel, and the upcoming Ender’s Game.   Consequently, seeing that they’re the writers behind 2012’s People Like Us, and that Kurtzman directed the film, may give one pause.   Sure, the movie may feature the new Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), the director of the first two Iron Man movies (Jon Favreau), Tim Burton’s Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer), Tron: Legacy’s Olivia Wilde, and the apparently everywhere Elizabeth Banks as the female lead, but People Like Us is far more a character piece than any sort of action-adventure/sci-fi/smart adrenaline flick.

I refer to People Like Us as a “character piece” because I’m feeling generous (and perhaps because it comes up in some of the bonus features included on the Blu-ray).  It certainly wouldn’t be called an “enthralling drama” or a “really intelligent look at [insert anything here].”  It is a middling concept made better by really good performances from Pine and Banks. 

Such as it is, the plot involves Sam (Pine) going from N.Y., where his life as a salesman is in crisis, back to L.A., where he grew up, when he finds out that his father has passed away.  It is a trip he doesn’t want to make, but does so nonetheless, taking his girlfriend, Lillian (Wilde), along for the ride.  What Sam quickly finds out is that his father had an affair and an illegitimate daughter, Frankie (Banks), who has a son (Michael Hall D’Addario).

From there it is all, roughly, as you would predict.  Frankie hasn’t had an easy life and her son, Josh, hasn’t either.  Sam’s dad has provided some under the table money for Josh, unbeknownst to Sam’s mom (Pfeiffer), and Sam isn’t sure what to do about it.  The cash, we learn, could help Sam out of his own personal troubles, but the more he gets to know Frankie and Josh the more he wants to help them.  And, of course, he doesn’t tell Frankie and Josh that he’s related to them (so as to heighten the drama later, presumably).

Do you see where all this is going?  The feel of the film is nothing that we haven’t seen before.  In fact, it’s all so similar to any number of other movies (in terms of general issues if not the whole unknown half-sister thing) that when the credits roll at the end of the movie, you’ll only sort of half care about all the various plot lines that were dropped along the way.  After all, if you know what’s going to happen before it occurs, you can probably figure out all the bits and pieces that didn’t get sorted out on your own as well.

Despite this egregious problem, the film still manages to, for the most part, succeed and it does so on the backs of the performances by Banks and Pine.  Banks is most regularly associated with her comedic roles, having appeared on 30 Rock and Scrubs on the little screen and Zach and Miri Make a Porno as well as a Our Idiot Brother on the big.  While more serious fare hasn’t been entirely off her radar—she starred in Man on a Ledge earlier this year—her performance here will be enough to convince anyone that she can most certainly handle drama and handle it brilliantly.  Sam is the main character and as such Pine has a lot of work to do, but the film opts to have Frankie’s problems be the ones it chooses to truly tackle, which really offer Banks an opportunity to shine.

The only real disappointment with the casting is D’Addario.  While the W.C. Fields quote “Never work with animals or children” is often cited, the truth is that D’Addario fails to come off as a troubled youth and scenes which he should steal end up falling flat.  Part of this is because the script simply doesn’t delve into his character.  As generic as many of the plot points in the film are, the troubled youth one is the worst among them.  We just get to see that he’s a troubled youth, presumably because his mom’s always working and he’s never known his father.  I would not suggest that he has had an easy life, but using all the “usual” trappings of such a character and failing to introduce anything new or different about him doesn’t do D’Addario any favors.

The Blu-ray features all the standard things one has come to expect of a release and, as with the film itself, none of the pieces truly distinguish themselves.  There are deleted and extended scenes, bloopers, improvisational takes, commentary, and a standard making-of featurette.  If those first four things sound like they’re all essentially the same it’s because they kind of are even if they’re broken down into three separate pieces.  A DVD of the film is also included.

Where the film does excel is with its presentation.  There are a lot of night/dimly lit sequences in the movie, and they all look wonderful.    The level of detail is very good (you can make out each and every bit of stubble on Pine’s face), and the colors all appear natural .  The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track, too, works well.  The use of ambient effects isn’t overpowering, but does add a sense of place and livens up what could otherwise but an overly front channel-heavy affair.  The film has been appropriately mixed for a home theater, and everything is perfectly clear.

All in all, People Like Us is a movie which you may find moderately amusing the first time out, especially if you’re a big fan of Pine or Banks and want to see them outside of their comfort zone.  However, it isn’t a movie worth going out of one’s way for.

 

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.