Monday, July 9, 2012

People Like Us

The sappy and  sententious would-be tearjerker "People Like Us" suffers from the "Three's Company!" version of the Idiot Plot: There would be no movie if the key character just out and said what was going on instead of making everyone suffer on manufactured misapprehension the entire time.

Chris Pine stars as Sam, a fast-talking salesman in the barter business. I spent most of the running time trying to figure out how his company supposedly makes money, and still have no idea. (It reminded me of the SNL fake ad for "First Citiwide Change Bank" - see below). When his peripatetic music-producer dad dies, he leaves Sam a shaving kit with $150,000 and a note to deliver it to Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), the sister he never knew he had. (Her son belongs to the endless line of precociously profane movie kids.)

Of course, Sam and Frankie first have to meet-cute, not once or twice but three times, followed inevitably by long late-night talks, teasing fights, and, on her unknowing part, a thawing that develops into attraction. Pine and Banks are appealing enough, but the movie wastes several other good actors (Philip Baker Hall, Mark Duplass) in throwaway parts. Michelle Pfeiffer does a creditable job as Sam's mother, who forced her husband to choose between his two families.

It's always a problem, though, when a movie contrives to keep information from its characters that we in the audience already know. There's just not a lot of dramatic tension built in. Eventually, the truth will come out, and they will be brother and sister, and love each other. "People Like Us" keeps the charade going for almost two insufferable hours. With that much time to fill, it falls victim to the current epidemic of overwriting. You see the hand of the screenwriter in every aphoristic line of dialogue, coincidental situation and character tic.

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