Josh (Michael Hall D’Addario) is an annoying kid with an even more annoying hair cut who blows up a swimming pool, shoplifts CDs and beats up other kids for no reason whatsoever. It’s no wonder why he has no friends. Aw, I feel so sorry for that poor kid! Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) is his single mother, who is a recovering alcoholic working as a bartender. She’s slept around so much while she was an addict that she has no idea who Josh’s father is. Even sober, that pattern doesn’t seem to have gone away, because she takes advantage of her neighbor’s crush on her for sex to relieve stress. Oh, but she calls her son “monkey!” She’s a great mom and deserves a break!
Is this really how the audience is supposed to react to such unlikable characters?
The whole premise of “People Like Us” is the dilemma Sam (Chris Pine) faces when his father passes away and leaves him a note to deliver $150,000 to a sister and nephew he never knew he had. Sam himself is in great debt and facing termination for a major screw up at his job, but debates whether to keep the money or deliver it to its intended recipient.
Unfortunately the film does nothing to make the audience want Frankie and Josh to have a better life. Can we have just one scene where we can actually see what a good kid Josh is? No? What about his mom? Can we witness one moment where she actually shows that she cares about her son? Sorry, denied there too. The screenwriters seem to feel that the more screwed up the characters are, the more audiences will feel sorry and root for them.
Sam, on the other hand, actually is likable, but that doesn’t work either. We’re supposed to think he’s some sleazy wheeler and dealer who’s actually contemplating not delivering the money, but it’s blatantly obvious from the beginning that he will. There is absolutely no conflict there whatsoever because we already know how nice of a guy he is.
You want conflict? How about some made-up conflict? Sam decides to hide that he’s in fact family to Frankie and Josh, but when he finally reveals his little secret, Frankie’s reaction is totally manufactured purely to create some false conflict only so that there can be a resolution and ending to the film. It’s not convincing at all; in fact, it’s the opposite of how I’d imagine a real person would react in the same situation.
There are also secondary characters who serve no purpose except to manipulate the viewers even more with artificial sentiment. Sam’s girlfriend, Hannah (Olivia Wilde), leaves him because she’s not sure if he loves her. His mother, Lillian, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, is revealed to have a health condition. Why? Because she’s played by Pfeiffer and needs something to do. Both are ultimately throwaway characters, wasting the talent of those playing them.
All of this artificial emotional manipulation leads to a concluding scene that’s supposed to wrap everything up nicely and leave you happy as you leave the theater. Well, I certainly was happy to leave.
If you’re looking for a family drama, I believe you’re better off watching a Hallmark Channel movie of the week.
“People Like Us,” 115 minute, is Rated PG-13 and opens in theaters today.