‘People Like Us’: A Story About Family

pluThanksgiving break gave me an opportunity to sit back, relax, and watch a few movies.  My main goal was to see the new Hunger Games flick, Catching Fire.  I definitely did, but there will be more on that later.  For now, I’d like to talk about a nice little movie called People Like Us.

I have a bit of a back-story behind this movie.  My mom wanted to go see it in theaters last year on the fourth of July.  Just the title, People Like Us, and the fact that my mom wanted to go see it, made me feel like it was a cliché drama or romantic comedy film that I wouldn’t be overly interested in.  I had never heard of it before or seen any previews.  I was going out on a whim by going to see it.

The film follows Sam, a somewhat self-involved, overworked young man living with his girlfriend, Hannah, in New York.  After learning about his father’s death, Sam tries hard to get out of going to the funeral, and when he finally makes it back home to California, we learn that he hasn’t had close contact with his parents at all.  Hannah has never been introduced to them and Sam hasn’t been home in a long time.  Tensions rise as Sam’s mother, Lillian, scolds him for missing his father’s funeral, while Sam tries to convince her that her husband had never been a good father to him, despite how much he was praised for being a good man and a wonderful music producer.

Sam goes on to meet with his father’s old friend and lawyer to collect what he’s inherited.  What appears to be Jerry’s old shaving kit turns out to be a bag full of hundred dollar bills that totals to $150,000.  Inside, a note is placed with instructions to hand the money over to someone named Josh Davis.  After finding the address, Sam comes to realize that Josh is a troubled 11-year-old boy.  After doing some more digging, it becomes apparent that Josh is Sam’s nephew, and his mother, Frankie, a bartender and recovering alcoholic, is his half-sister.

Sam contemplates taking the money and leaving without telling anyone.  After discussing this with Hannah, she’s disgusted by the thought and leaves him.  Sam slowly starts to place himself into Frankie and Josh’s lives.  He gets to learn about Josh’s problems growing up without a father, and Frankie’s similar problems, as their father, Jerry, stopped going to visit her after a while, and when she tried to reach out to him, he treated her badly.

people-like-us-slice1

Sam (Chris Pine) and Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) get to know each other.

The movie shows Sam getting to know them without revealing who he really is.  He empathizes with an upset Frankie, as Jerry never really tried much to bond with him or show him much affection.  As time progresses, we learn that Lillian knew about Frankie all along and told Jerry that he had to choose between the two families.  After finding out, Sam comes to realize that Jerry couldn’t stand to look at him as a child because every time he did, he could only see Frankie, the daughter he was forced to neglect.  Because of that, Frankie hates “the other family” for stealing him away.

The idea of a non-traditional or “blended” family isn’t exactly new.  Portraying such a thing in film might have been groundbreaking in the 1960s, but it’s normal by today’s standards.  People Like Us perfectly expresses the frustrations and tensions that come with a situation like this.  It represents the idea that family is family no matter what.  It’s an idea that Sam slowly starts to realize.  He becomes very aware of it towards the end of the film, as he gets upset with Lillian for making Jerry choose between kids, and realizes that he wants Frankie and Josh in his life.

On the other hand, Frankie starts to see Sam as a possible romantic interest.  As he is easily the nicest and most supportive man that has been in her life, she starts to see him as a father figure for Josh, and someone who can take care of her, even though throughout the movie she makes it clear that she doesn’t need help.  When she starts to trust him, everything is broken when she finds out that Sam is actually one of the people she hates the most.  Feeling embarrassed and betrayed, she kicks him out of her life.

people-like-us-michelle-pfeiffer-chris-pine

Lillian (Michelle Pfeiffer) talks to her son, Sam (Chris Pine), about his father.

The experience changes Sam and he starts to understand how important family is.  After making up with Hannah, he decides he needs to move to California to be close to his family, and she accepts an offer to attend law school at UCLA to be with him.

Of course, Sam is able to track down Frankie and Josh once again before the end.  Still upset, she gets angry with him again, but reluctantly gives him enough time to explain why she should let him in her life.  After an emotional ending, I like to suspect that Frankie began to accept Sam as her brother.

Chris Pine and Elizabeth Banks do a great job of portraying Sam and Frankie.  Banks is believable as a struggling single mother, while Pine is able to play his self-involved role pretty well.  Michelle Pfeiffer plays a good mother to Sam, and Olivia Wilde, even in her minor role as Sam’s girlfriend, Hannah, does a great job.

The movie is definitely a feel-good one.  Life might not exactly have the same happy ending that People Like Us has, but the pain and frustration is real.  As my mom grew up without her real father and experienced life with a blended family, I like to think that she can kind of relate.  Even with several half-brothers and a stepsister, she still thinks of all of them as her family.  At first, Sam brushes Frankie off.  Even though they may be related, they don’t know anything about each other and for most of his life, Sam didn’t even know that Frankie existed.

It’s ironic that Sam didn’t start to truly embrace his family until after his father’s death, but Jerry seemed to understand that Sam couldn’t truly understand him until Jerry was dead.  While Lillian assumed that she was keeping her family together, Sam could see that it only had a negative effect.  It strained both relationships between Sam, Frankie, and their father.  As the film ends, Sam not only has gained a sister, but a newfound understanding of his father and the meaning of family.

People-Like-Us-Trailer-Chris-Pine-Elizabeth-BanksSam’s (and Jerry’s) Six Rules of Life

1. Don’t like something because you think other people will like it, because they won’t.

2. What you think is important isn’t.  What you think is unimportant is.

3. Lean into it.

4. Don’t shit where you eat.

5. Most doors are closed, so if you want them to open, you need a cool knock.

6. Don’t sleep with people who have more problems than you do.

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