People Like Us seeks yuppie redemption

Family drama oddly falls victim to rom-com tropes

Another dad's off-screen death launches the drama People Like Us, the directorial debut of screenwriter Alex Kurtzman. Kurtzman's primary fame lies in his writing/producing partnership with Roberto Orci on splashy Hollywood properties such as the Transformers movies, Cowboys & Aliens, and the Star Trek reboot. People Like Us eschews robots and aliens to emulate Cameron Crowe's hits instead with a yuppie redemption tale larded with a pop soundtrack.

Chris Pine plays Sam, a hotshot salesman in the new economy who blows a big deal at the same time his estranged father passes away. Sam reluctantly returns home to Los Angeles to touch base with his angry mother (Michelle Pfeiffer), only to be saddled with his father's last request: to deliver a small fortune in cash to the grown sister Sam never knew he had.

Faced with huge debts and professional problems, Sam considers keeping the cash for himself, but slowly ingratiates himself into the life of his sister Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), a single mom in AA with a troubled, wisecracking son (Michael Hall D'Addario). For no good reason, People Like Us closely emulates the tone and structure of romantic comedies based on some kind of deception. It feels like a waste for People Like Us to devote so much of its running time to such an unnecessary contrivance.

The likable actors give well-rounded performances, and Kurtzman seems capable of fleshing out a story about family tensions and unresolved emotions without forcing the characters through so many superfluous hoops. Pfeiffer gives a bittersweet performance as a failed singer. Pine and Banks have chemistry, even though it seems unlikely that Sam and Frankie's relationship will take a turn a la Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia. That would make for a more interesting movie, though.