Sometime in the recent past, “first world problems” has become a viable sub-genre of indie film, and “People Like Us” is the latest installment to add to the pile. Like the entire subcategory, it has little to add to the world of cinema but thankfully takes nothing away.

People Like Us

At Quality 16 and Rave
Touchstone


“People Like Us” is the story of smooth-talking barter expert Sam (Chris Pine, “This Means War”) who has to come to terms with his daddy issues after said daddy passes away. Turns out Sam’s record-producer father had a secret daughter Frankie (Elizabeth Banks, “The Hunger Games”) who in turn has a smart-ass son (newcomer Michael Hall D’Addario). Intrigued by the two and enticed by their inheritance, Sam creeps into the lives of his sister and nephew in a generic narrative of love and redemption.

And therein lies the problem, not only with “People Like Us,” but with all films of the as-yet-unlabelled “first world problems” subgroup: It’s generic. Sam’s problems with his father are standard issue; he didn’t spend enough time with him, his dad kept secrets, boo-hoo. Yes, more of the audience can relate, but why would they want to? If you want common problems, go back to reality. Is it too much to ask for movies to be an escape from that?

Still, “People Like Us” has its revelations, the main one being Chris Pine in an almost-effortless turn as serious actor and not just the giver of the smoldering gaze. He inhabits Sam easily from the first scene and boldly goes into the uncharted territories of confusion, angst, rage and regret. There’s a particularly random montage of Sam getting drunk and listening to his father’s old records while trying to track down Frankie’s biological mother; the scene leads to nothing, but Pine’s performance is transfixing.

D’Addario charms as well, exploring every shade between rude and impish that an eleven-year old boy can inhabit. In the end, he draws the estranged siblings together and proves to be the most mature character in the film.

There are certain scenes between Frankie and Sam that get tense. Not Jamie-and-Cersei tense — hell, not even Luke-and-Leia tense — but enough to make the casual viewer tighten up a bit and hope that Frankie can ignore the objectively hot Chris Pine visage before her and friendzone him like there’s no tomorrow. Nothing actually happens, but it’s enough to mar the film experience and Sam’s character altogether.

In a summer of superheroes, male strippers and talking teddy bears, “People Like Us” tries to be the normative film that moviegoers might just need. Unfortunately, it’s not the film people like us want.

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