'People Like Us' Review (MovieMantz)

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People Like Us -- Walt Disney Studios

"Everyday 'People'"

"People Like Us"
Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks, Michelle Pfeiffer
Directed by Alex Kurtzman

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Prolific writing and producing partners Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have been on an incredible roll for the last decade, thanks to box office hits like "Mission: Impossible III," the first two "Transformers" movies and the excellent "Star Trek" reboot. They also made their mark on the small screen, executive producing the likes of "Alias," "Fringe" and "Hawaii Five-O" while also scoring a surprise home run as executive producers of the Sandra Bullock-Ryan Reynolds romantic comedy "The Proposal."

But then Kurtzman got a proposal of his own, and it was an offer he couldn't refuse: to make his directorial debut with a film loosely based on his own life - specifically, about meeting his half-sister from his father's previous marriage. The intimate story was a far cry from the big budget spectacles that he was best known for, since the subject matter was so close to his heart, but that's what makes "People Like Us" such a sweet, funny and endearing film that easily ranks as one of the year's best movies.

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Reteaming with Kurtzman is "Star Trek" captain Chris Pine, who plays Sam, a fast-talking New York City salesman who finds his latest deal falling apart on the same day he learns about the death of his estranged music producer father. Soon after returning to his Los Angeles home, he discovers that his father left $150,000 to Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), his 30-year-old half-sister that he never knew he had. Now Sam faces a crisis of conscience: does he give Frankie the money, even though he really needs it to get out of a financial bind? Or is she better off not knowing who he really is?

For a filmmaker better known for special effects-heavy blockbusters, Kurtzman shows a remarkable amount of restraint directing "People Like Us." The end result (co-written by Kurtzman, Jody Lambert and, of course, Roberto Orci) feels like a cross between "Rain Man," "Almost Famous" and "High Fidelity," hitting all the right heartfelt moments without being emotionally manipulative, culminating with a finale that should bring a grown man to tears.

But great writing and confident direction would mean nothing without terrific actors, and that's also where "People Like Us" delivers the goods. Chris Pine has been on the rise since 2009's "Star Trek" and 2010's "Unstoppable," but he still hasn't broken through to the A-list level of his peers, like Ryan Gosling or Ryan Reynolds. That should change with this film, which finds Pine delivering a bravura performance that's charming, cocky, self-absorbed and vulnerable - all qualities that he balances perfectly, solidifying his big screen presence while showing promise of what's yet to come.

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But Elizabeth Banks steals the movie as the single mother and recovering alcoholic for whom every day is a struggle. Banks has had a busy year, co-starring in "The Hunger Games," "Man on a Ledge," and "What to Expect When You're Expecting." But "People Like Us" is the best of the bunch by far, and her performance is stellar. She also has great chemistry with Pine, as both actors do a credible job at building a relationship that eventually gets awkward, but thankfully never gets creepy.

Leave it to none other than Michelle Pfeiffer to do so much with a less glamorous role, playing Pine's resentful mother with grace and beauty despite having just a few scenes. Olivia Wilde is somewhat underutilized as Pine's supportive girlfriend, but Michael Hall D'Addario shows incredible talent and holds his own as Banks' rebellious son.

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In a summer movie season filled with popcorn-minded Hollywood spectacles, "People Like Us" is like a breath of fresh air - think of it as this year's "Crazy Stupid Love." That makes it a welcome change of pace for Kurtzman, so even though he'll be back to big-budget business in no time (including next year's "Star Trek" sequel), here's hoping he changes his pace a lot more often.

Verdict: SEE IT!

-Scott Mantz (on Twitter @MovieMantz)

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