Thursday, November 8, 2012

Under 250: People Like Us

What People Like Us has going for it is its ability to craft characters who read as real people.  They are human, they are flawed, and they are dancing around the creation of relationships that are fairly engaging.  Where the film fails, however, is in cutting through the bullshit and allowing the characters to actually mine those relationships with honesty.  While the film is thankfully nowhere near the sunrise-soaked cheese it could have been, it struggles with setting these characters too firmly in a melodrama too touched with soap opera-style issues to be truly satisfying.  The problem, you see, is that the story keeps half of its characters in suspense while neglecting its audience.  Sam (Chris Pine) returns home for the funeral of his father.  He didn't get along so well with the old man, and he carries more passive anger along on his visit than sadness.  As he begins settling his dad's estate, he learns that his father had another family, that he has a sister (Elizabeth Banks) and nephew (Michael Hall D'Addario) he never knew about.  Therein lies the problem.

People Like Us tells us right off that this is his sister.  Somehow, Sam just knows, and he spends much of the film trying to get closer to them without revealing this information to his secret sister.  This is, I think, perhaps creepier than if he tries to get closer to them to solve the mystery. Why can't he go along thinking this is a young mistress instead of knowing it's his sister?  Why can't he tell them?  Why doesn't he think it's kind of weird that he's getting close to this unstable woman who maybe is starting to have a crush on him?  Why wouldn't he just be like: look, so it turns out you're probably me sister, I didn't like dad either, you wanna try and make a decent family out of the ashes of his awfulness?  These are real problems the film is content to draw out for no apparent reason.  There are compelling elements here, but they're ultimately not arranged in a way that's satisfying.

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