Tuesday, July 3, 2012

People Like Us [2012]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III) Roger Ebert (2 1/2 Stars) Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB review
Roger Ebert's review
People Like Us (directed and cowritten by Alex Kurtzman along with Roberto Orci and Jodi Lambert and declaring at the end of its opening credits that the film's "inspired by real events") is a rather dark and perhaps appropriately unflinching look at the excesses of the "1960s and beyond Hollywood lifestyle." 

The movie begins by introducing viewers to Sam (played by Chris Pine) a fast-talking late 20-something / early 30-something commodities broker living and working in New York, hence about far away from Hollywood/Los Angeles as he could move without actually leaving the United States.  However, as far away physically as he may now find himself from where he grew-up, it soon becomes clear that internally he's struggling with a lot of demons from his childhood.  In debt up to his eye-balls, his fast talking and shady business dealing is getting him in trouble with both his boss and with the Feds.  5-10 minutes into the movie, coming home from a disastrous day at work where his boss informed him that the firm's probably going feed him to the sharks of the Federal Trade Commission after botching a needlessly risky business deal in the name of the firm, Sam is greeted by his serious live-in girl friend, Hannah (played Olivia Wilde), talking on the phone (for the first time?) to his mother Lilian (played in the film by Michelle Pfiffer).  Sam's mother was calling to inform him that his father, Jerry, who had been once a big-time Hollywood record producer, had died.  Responding to Hannah, Sam starts telling her: "Great, tell her I'm sorry, but I don't want to go (to the funeral...)."  Instead, Hannah tells Sam's mother still on the phone: "We'll fly out tommorrow ..."

So desperate to not have to go (and also he did have "other things on his mind ...") Sam tries to fake that he forgot his ID at the airport.  But it's to no avail.  Coming back to the car, Hannah "finds" his wallet in the car's glove compartment.  They missed their original flight, but (with extra expense no doubt ...) they find a flight to Los Angeles to arrive at Lilian's/Jerry's (Sam's childhood) home apparently somewhere "up there" in the Hollywood Hills overlooking L.A.  Jerry had been a successful record producer after all...

The initial greetings are icy.  It's obvious that Sam hasn't been home in years.  Lilian makes it a point of telling the two that this is the first time that she's meeting (or perhaps having even heard of) Hannah.  Still, even if it's the first time that she's meeting her, it's also more or less clear that she probably likes (or would like) Hannah more than her own son.  Wow, what the heck happened in this family?

The next day, Sam gets a message from Jerry's old friend and lawyer to meet him at some non-descript diner/restaurant somewhere in Los Angeles.  It's not fancy but it's not a dive.  It's clear that Sam remembered where it was.  There Jerry's lawyer tells Sam what's in Jerry's will:  The house will remain with Sam's mom.  Sam will get Jerry's rather extensive LP record collection "oh boy ... just the kind of gift to give a son who hates his father for being obviously over-involved in his recording work..." and then gives Sam a small brown leather pouch.  "Wonderful ... and I get his shaving kit too!"  The lawyer leaves.  Sam still sitting in the booth at the restaurant opens the small leather pouch and finds that there is $150,000 in cash in that pouch along with a one sentence note: "Sam take this money and give it to Josh, who lives at <and the address of an apartment is given>."

Now remember, that Sam is in debt to his eyeballs.  A $150,000 could make a lot of his immediate problems go away and he has no idea who this Josh is.  STILL, and here the movie begins to turn around ... Sam decides to find this Josh.  And when he does find out who Josh is, he finds that Josh IS HIS NEPHEW (played by Michael Hall D'Addorio), the SON OF A HALF-SISTER Frankie (played by Elizabeth Banks) who up until this point _he never knew existed_.

The rest of the film spools out from there.  When Sam does meet Frankie, he finds that she _also_ is terribly angry at her father for having completely abandoned them when she was eight.  Up until that time Jerry had at least visited her and her mother regularly.  Then suddenly he was gone and gone forever.  What the heck happened?

Yes, it all gets resolved by film's end.  Yes, there's a lot of pain, involving all the living characters in this story, that has to be processed before film's end. 

I suppose, to be honest, I was and remained rather confused by the title "People Like Us" through the whole movie and even afterwards.  After all, most of us aren't children of record producers.  And most of our parents didn't necessarily have two families.  HOWEVER, I would agree that a lot of our families have had secrets.  And actually, by the end of the film, Sam, who doesn't come across as a particularly sympathetic character in the initial stages of the film, does become a pretty good guy.

After all, for all the trouble that Sam himself had in his own life, Sam did _choose_ to do the right thing in that key scene where he was staring at $150,000 in cash and decide to look for the person that his father had asked him to.  And actually the father, Jerry, for all his apparent flaws, and one who certainly must have known how much his son hated him, still showed an enormous amount of confidence in his son to do the right thing when asked.

As a result, I would hope, that faced with a choice like Sam's, that _we_ would choose to be "people like Sam" or even "people like Jerry." Remarkable isn't it?  We can all learn from each other and our experiences.

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