People Like Us is a story about secrets. Some harmless, some life-changing. When his father dies, Sam discovers a bombshell — his dad had a secret life including a daughter Sam’s never met. On top of that, his dad left his entire inheritance of $150K to her! Can Sam, a professional “avoider,” face this thorny situation? Or will he run away, just like his father?
People Like Us is about Sam (a nuanced and intelligent Chris Pine), who didn’t have an easy relationship with his father. In fact, despite living under the same roof, they barely had a relationship at all. A record producer responsible for making the 80s New Wave band Kajagoogoo famous, Sam’s dad much preferred the company of rock stars and pretty groupies to children.
Now Sam is a financially strapped, egocentric 20-something with a habit of running away from his problems, clearly something he inherited from his father. Emotions run from shock to rage, however, when he discovers his father not only had a secret daughter — but she stands to inherit his entire savings. What does Sam inherit? His dad’s record collection and a whole heap of lies.
Armed with his father’s shaving kit stuffed with $150K in cash, Sam seeks out his half-sister. At first, he has no intention of giving her the money. He feels it belongs to him.
But Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), turns out to be a single mom with an intelligent yet troubled 11-year-old son who has a penchant for blowing up school property. Sam gets to know each of them without revealing his shared DNA. Their relationship becomes precarious, however, when Frankie misinterprets Sam’s interest in her as something more than friends. AWKWARD!
Sam’s mom, Lillian (Michelle Pfeiffer), has secrets of her own and must also come to terms with her own acts of betrayal. Michelle plays Lillian with the gravity and ferocity of a mother bear.
Chris Pine does a fantastic job making Sam sympathetic despite his shortcomings and selfishness. Elizabeth Banks gives a moving performance, particularly in the scene where Sam reveals he’s her brother. Your heart breaks for her as the pain of betrayal washes over her face, quickly turning to rage. Well done, Elizabeth.
As each family member’s secret is divulged, the blurry Polaroid photo of a broken family materializes, allowing the truth to show up in vivid colors — a truth that may begin a process of healing.
Bottom line: People Like Us skillfully explores a difficult family dynamic that becomes the catalyst for a young man to face himself and become a man of integrity. This journey makes for an emotional and satisfying film with a very sweet surprise at the end.
Photo credit: Dreamworks