I’d probably have to go back and check to be positive, but I think this is my favourite movie so far this year. I went into it knowing very little – just bits from the trailer, really – but I was definitely drawn to it right from the start, and settling into the theatre, I felt I wouldn’t be disappointed.
And I wasn’t.
We meet Sam (Chris Pine) at what seems to be the top of his game, selling companies on the barter system, which he is describing as “the new money”. There’s nothing he can’t do; no one he can’t convince to invest in hisw company and his ideas. He knows a little about a lot, looks great in a suit, and those eyes seem so trustworthy it hurts. We watch as he ignores a call from his mom in order to close another deal, and then the first shoe drops. Work life isn’t going as smoothly as he’d thought, and he could, in fact, be in a world of trouble.
Getting home to his lovely girlfriend, Hannah (Olivia Wilde), the other shoe drops pretty much immediately – Sam’s father has died. That’s why his mom was trying so hard to get in touch with him earlier. Sam is visibly not upset, but despite his seeming ambivalence, he and Hannah eventually board a plane to LA – unfortunately not in time for the funeral, but they do get there.
He arrives late on his mother’s doorstep, and claims that they can only stay the night, because Hannah has to get back home for a law school interview. Hannah knows this is a lie, and Sam’s mom, Lillian (Michelle Pfeiffer, who continues to grow more beautiful each time I see her) isn’t sure she believes it, either, but she’s used to her son running away from everything, so she’s not really surprised that he would bolt from this, too.
The hits just keep on coming for Sam, however, as he learns from the estate lawyer and his father’s good friend that, not only has Sam only inherited his father’s record collection (he’d been a big music producer, back in the day), but there’s a one hundred and fifty thousand dollar cash inheritance that Sam must deliver – to the sister he never knew he had.
Now, to Sam’s credit, he actually goes out and finds the mystery sister, Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) and her young, insanely intelligent son, Josh (Michael Hall-D’Addario), while also contemplating just keeping the money himself to solve his own problems. The pressure builds to an almost self-destructive level for Sam, though, and his desire to maintain control of his life at all costs could very well be his downfall. All the while, the ghost of a man he and Frankie barely knew floats through their current lives, possibly even more now that he’s dead than when he was alive.
And that’s pretty much all I am going to say about the actual plot. I will say that this film surprised me, moved me, thrilled me, shocked me and is continuing to make me think about it all even now as I write this. The performances were absolutely amazing, too – I felt like I was absorbing each moment as it happened; taking it all in. Chris Pine has never been better, and totally drives the movie from start to finish; Michelle Pfeiffer is breathtaking even in heartbreak and fearful truth; Elizabeth Banks gives Frankie a raw genuineness that leaps off the screen whenever she’s on it; Olivia Wilde takes what should have been a supporting role and somehow manages to be a part of the overall story whether she’s involved in the moment or not; and young Michael Hall-Daddario imbues Josh with a delightful combination of intelligence, brattiness and playfulness that is rarely seen in young actors. Each character is a complete person, and I found myself rooting for all of them to somehow find their way through all of the shoes dropping around them. There are so many moments where I found myself holding my breath, unsure of what I wanted the next line to be, but hoping that it would somehow make things a little bit better for everyone involved, because I’d grown to care about them all so much.
So there you have it – I loved People Like Us. The film shows us characters who have flaws, and strengths; who make mistakes, and yet who can triumph over them. It shows people like you, people like me – people like us, who are just feeling their way through the world, trying to define family, friendship, trust and, ultimately, themselves.
I couldn’t recommend it more.