People Like Us (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
3Oct/122

People Like Us (2012)

People Like Us is a misleading title.  The "Us" part implies that there's more than one perspective on the events of the film.  Unfortunately, we're stuck with one perspective, and it's one indicative of a trend I would like to see an end of in not just cinema, but fiction in general.  This would be the sad and mournful tale of the privileged person who gets to learn something real good by stepping outside themselves.

Off the top of my head, I can only think of one film that really accomplished this (Sullivan's Travels, for you folks playing the home game) and a few others that were at least entertaining in the process.  However, there is no such luck with People Like Us, and part of that blame must be shared with the casting of Chris Pine as someone we are supposed to feel bad for.  There is a long and storied history of people casting lovely performers in dramas that are supposed to wring them through the mud, but Pine starts off clean as a whistle with that action movie smile and ends just the same.

Only in fits of extreme delusion do I stand in front of the mirror and pretend that I have the sort of life and physique that Pine has.  This, by no means, makes him a horrible actor and he does everything that he can with the film.  But with a medium that relies entirely on visuals, someone who is put through an emotional wringer such as Pine's surely can't be so pristine and successful at the end.  Seeing that same pearly white grin of reassurance does not make for a particularly effective emotional journey.

Ah, nothing quite says "Screw you, dad" like driving around in his big penis. Or car. Either / or.

This is not entirely Pine's fault.  He is a fun performer, if not yet an affecting one, and is saddled with a screenplay that from start to finish makes him the single most unlikable and lucky person in his blinder filled world.  Our introduction to his character stretches the premise that he is someone like "Us."  Sam (Pine) successfully navigates through the rough and tumble world of buy / sell stock overages to people who need a few hundred extra tires.  At least he is successful until, on the same day, a shipment he should have refrigerated goes bad and his father dies.

Before I have the chance to even think about the amazing coincidence of these events Sam starts behaving like the stereotype of the unfeeling person of privilege.  He intentionally loses his id so that he can't board the plane with his fed-up girlfriend (Olivia Wilde) and get to his father's funeral in time.  This sequence introduces his equally suffering mother (Michelle Pfeiffer), who surely must have had many lonely nights where she wanted to put a gun in her mouth between this jackass of a son and equally absentee father.  But this isn't about her, it's about her horrible son, as his many scenes of self-destructive behavior go rewarded with barely a slight put-down.

This is less a story of change and more how one boys obsession with things grew until he only found growth through acquisition.  In a better story this might have been commented on, but the screenplay is constantly throwing objects as the solution to Sam's problems.  Later on in the film he strikes up a relationship with a kid (Michael Hall D'Addario) who he bribes with cds, he bonds over his mom over drinks and a joint, he reconnects with his girlfriend through technology.  For Sam, there isn't a problem in the world that lacks a material solution.

I'm trying to think of a creepier "lusting for your sister" moment outside of The Cement Garden or Star Wars.

Should the materials have been involved in some kind of personal growth it would have been ham fisted but at least there would have been true development.  People Like Us is little more than a computer game where you have to find the right object to advance.  So Sam stumbles around using his prominently shot fancy car looking for the next item that will help him advance through the plot.  This is simple and boring, but what really pushes the film into the terrible category is the way each of the supporting characters are objectified.

Their static nature does not clash with the materialism equals personal growth message of the film, but it's creepy all the same.  Think of the mother of the boy (Elizabeth Banks) who is actually Sam's sister.  The film regards her as a sex object from the beginning, being a single mother working at a bar, by leering down her dress and showing how the 11-year old students ogle her.  It tries to excuse the objectification by showing how willing she is to utilize that to snag a lawyer and solve her problems.  That scene never comes and what's left is a series of shots in which our protagonist, who knows that he is this woman's brother, stalks and uses her to try and solve his other problems.

She's just another object, just like his mom, and just like his girlfriend.  I'd say the film has a sexist bent but the same thing applies to the kid, who he just uses to get over his incredibly prominent daddy issues, and a kindly lawyer (Phillip Baker Hall) who literally tells him to appreciate what he has.  All people are objects just to be used by the one who has all the privilege, and all the problems in the world can be solved by playing one against the other at the right time.

There's grounds for a great satire on the nature of that kind of privilege here but that would require dropping the simple moralizing.  Sam succeeds because he's the lead and we should want him to be happy.  If only life were that simple.

People Like Us (2012)
Directed by Alex Kurtzman.
Screenplay written by Kurtzman, Jody Lambert, and Roberto Orci.
Starring Chris Pine, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Elizabeth Banks.

Posted by Andrew

Comments (2) Trackbacks (0)
  1. I thought it was a sweet (emotionaly) movie, but after reading this review I see your point.

    • Thanks for the comment Mary Jane! Despite my distaste for the movie there was still some I enjoyed, especially Michelle Pfeiffer, who elevated the material at times.


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