"People Like Us" is an emotional roller coaster that stays on track through a tangle of huge highs and dramatic lows because of standout performances from Chris Pine and Elizabeth Banks.
Had either actor's work wobbled in the least, the ride would have come to a crashing halt. But their nearly flawless work is moving and powerful.
Pine plays Sam, a dreamer and fast-talking salesman who hasn't been able to get his life fully in order. Just as his job is about to fall apart, Sam finds out his estranged father, a Los Angeles record producer, has died and he must return to his Southern California home to get his father's estate in order. Going home is painful because Sam's father was so distant and cold that it drove them apart.
Sam discovers his father kept secrets. He's given a bag of money and instructed to give it to Frankie (Banks), a sister he never knew existed.
Frankie's got her own problems, from financial woes to a son, Josh (Michael Hall D'Addario), who has become an emotional cyclone. She's seen the death notice for her father and assumes that the lack of contact he had for so many years was a rejection of her and her mother.
Sam doesn't initially reveal their family connection and instead becomes friends with Josh and then Frankie. The timing never seems right to tell his sister about their actual relationship. This eventually proves a major mistake.
Director Alex Kurtzman, whose only previous directing experience was an episode of the TV show "Alias," uses a controlled hand to keep the movie moving along the serious path of the screenplay he wrote with Roberto Orci and Jody Lambert. He displays great skill at showing how two people can look at the same pain and suffering from completely different perspectives.
This is by far the best work Banks has done, and it establishes her credentials for tough dramatic roles. It takes an accomplished actor to show toughness and weakness without making the character seem wishy-washy. Banks does this with power.
Pine reminds us that although he's tended to do comedies and action films, he still has the sharp acting skills he showed in the 2008 release "Bottle Shock."
There must be something about Kurtzman's directing skills because Michelle Pfeiffer, who plays Sam's mother, gives her best performance in a decade.
"People Like Us" is a simple story made richer by textured and deeply detailed performances. It's an emotional ride you soon won't forget.
"People Like Us," rated PG-13 for language, drug use, brief sexuality. Stars Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks, Michael Hall D'Addario, Michelle Pfeiffer. Directed by Alex Kurtzman. Running time: 115 minutes. Grade: B+ Theaters and times for this movie | Other movie reviews
TV and movie criticRick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, email@example.com or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.