Saturday, June 30, 2012

People Like Us review

Writers Alex Kurtzman and Bob Orci have written some high grossing tentpole movies. Their screenplays include Transformers (2007) and Star Trek. (2009) So it's interesting to see them along with Jody Lambert write the family drama, People Like Us. I mean has Michael Bay ever directed an indie drama? Anyway, the movie is based on true events and Kurtzman makes his film directorial debut.

People Like Us opens up with introducing us to Sam Harper, (Chris Pine) a slick New York businessman who buys and barters overstocked products. One of his deals gets him in trouble with his ruthless boss (Jon Favreau) and the Federal Trade Commission. He also has debts. But Sam has another problem. He returns to his home to find his angelic girlfriend, Hannah (Olivia Wilde), tell him that his father, Gerry Harper has died. Sam has been estranged from his record producing father for years.

Sam returns to Los Angeles for his father's funeral, and stays at the home of his mother Lillian. (Michelle Pfeiffer) We find out from her that Sam's father was not a good husband either. Still, she loved him. While in town, Sam learns that his father has left $150, 000.00 in cash to give to ane eleven year old grandson, Josh. (Michael Hall D'Addario) There's a twist here. Sam had no idea that he had a nephew or a sister. We find that his sister is a half sister, Frankie. (Elizabeth Banks)

Sam decides to find Frankie and Josh. Frankie is single mother and works as a bartender. She's also a former alcoholic whoe's struggling to make ends meet. She's also estranged from their mutual father. Josh is a precocious kid and is suffering from the effects of not having a father. The dilemma for Sam is that if he doesn't tell Frankie about the money, he could keep the money even thought it's dishonest.

In the movie, Sam has rules for life that he learned from his father. I've got some rules for films. So in the spirit of Sam's rules here are mine.

1. Trust your audience and curb the camera gymnastics. During the first hour of People Like Us, Director Kurtzman moves the camera relentlessly. There were whip pans, handheld camera shots and fast cutting. Kurtzman doesn't linger on a scene for more than five seconds. I got motion sickness.

Look, it's time to stop the need to use camera gymnastics to keep the audience's attention. We're not all teenagers with ADHD. People Like Us has a compelling story. There's no need for all that movement.

2. Don't put too many montages with soft rock songs. Putting soft rock songs with montages are momentum killers. You don't need a soft rock song to tell the emotions of the characters. It's especially corny when the lyrics of the song are used to convey the emotion in the scene.

There must have been about three music montages in People Like Us. The soft rock songs interfered with the audience's investment in the plight of the characters.

Now, it sounds like I hated People Like Us. Not really. The film finally worked when Kurtzman slows down the camera for a quiet night scene between Lillian and Sam as they sit on a bench overlooking Los Angeles. It works because we find that as much of a bum that Sam's father was, Lillian still loved the man. Life is complicated.

The dialogue in this movie rings true. People really do talk like that. They have financial problems. And with a title called People Like Us, I was a leery since the cast was so beautiful. But Michelle Pfeiffer gives Lillian the sadness the character needs. Chris Pine conveys a slick businessman then a person in search for his past. And Elizabeth Banks demonstrates she's a great actress. I know people like Frankie. They're survivors. Banks doesn't act like a Hollywood star. She feels real like a single mom trying to raise her son as a bartender.

If you can survive the camera gymnastics in the first hour of People Like Us, you'll find the last hour rewarding. Because the film is about the search for human contact. It's about the need for family. The grade is B +.

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