‘People Like Us'
Ignore the credits and “People Like Us” is a Cameron Crowe film, and not just because it uses the sun-dappled era of 1970s California rock to create tone and depth. In his directorial debut, writer Alex Kurtzman, of J.J. Abrams' Bad Robot Productions, takes a personal autobiographical element and spins a story about self-reflection, personal discovery and trying to find the elusive ingredient for a happy life. As such, “People Like Us” is a beautifully shot pastiche of “Jerry Maguire” and “Almost Famous,” and Kurtzman plucks heart strings as ardently as he evokes the long-passed glory days of the Laurel Canyon music scene.
Sam Harper (Chris Pine) makes a shady living as a corporate barterer, talking fast while products change hands and hoping nothing goes horribly wrong. Then, just as the Federal Trade Commission takes a hard look at one of his deals, Sam's girlfriend, Hannah (Olivia Wilde), greets him at the door with news of his estranged father's death. Sam and Hannah fly to Los Angeles and stay with his mother Lillian (Michelle Pfeiffer), who lives on Wonderland Avenue in Laurel Canyon, surrounded by artifacts of her late husband's career as a music producer. But Sam's entire conception of his childhood and his parents is altered when his father's lawyer (Philip Baker Hall) delivers the news: Jerry Harper had a daughter who he kept secret.
That daughter is Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), a recovering alcoholic who tends bar at The Standard while trying to keep her son Josh (Michael Hall D'Addario) out of the principal's office. Sam begins to insinuate himself into their lives, but lacks the fortitude to say who he really is, or why he is there. Eventually, he proves to be a good uncle to Josh, but committing to the whole truth is not in Sam's wheelhouse.
“People Like Us” incorporates nostalgia for the old music industry as an emotional resonance, and it gets most of it right, though it is hard to imagine, as Sam recounts, that an L.A. producer who rubbed shoulders with Joni Mitchell and Linda Ronstadt eventually discovered Kajagoogoo — there are plenty of British music producers to credit or blame. The film mostly hinges on how long Sam will procrastinate before telling Frankie about their shared lineage, but “People Like Us” possesses undeniable charms and an ending that will jerk the tears out of every duct. Kurtzman used his own experience connecting with a sibling as the foundation for the story, and there is a refreshing quality to a mass-market drama without romance at its center. In the end, Kurtzman made a sweet-natured melodrama that, by all rights, should have “Directed by Cameron Crowe” in its title sequence, but with the real Crowe taking his time getting back to what he does best, there is a place for “People Like Us.”
— George Lang