The title of the just released "People Like Us" begs the question: does Hollywood really make films about people like us?
The title of the just-released "People Like Us" begs the question: Does Hollywood really make films about people like us?
Actually the question is a bit rhetorical. Movies are about people who are decidedly not like us. For that you can ride the bus, sit in an airport or hang out with family at Thanksgiving. We go to movies to escape people like us and spend time with people who have a glow, who possess a patina of fantasy and an uncommon attraction, delivering carefully crafted lines written by someone else.
Briefly, the film "People Like Us" follows Sam (Chris Pine), a New York hustler selling remainder inventory on commission. He learns that his estranged father has unexpectedly died. Reluctantly, he flies back to L.A. for the funeral with his live-in girlfriend, Hannah (Olivia Wilde). His mother, Lilian (Michelle Pfieffer), is deeply angry with Sam for having stayed away for 13 years, giving him a slap before welcoming him home.
It's at this point that the film begins in earnest: His father's attorney gives Sam a battered toilet kit. Inside is a note with an address and $150,000. Sam is told to deliver the money to Josh and admonished to "take care of them."
Puzzled, Sam locates 11-year-old Josh (Michael Hall D'Addario) and his single mom, Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), living in a cramped apartment in L.A. Frankie is a bartender. Josh is a problematical teen. But instead of disclosing the note and the inheritance, he treads water, curious, semi-stalking Frankie and Josh, constructing contrived encounters. It's at a local AA meeting — Frankie is a recovering alcoholic — that he learns her identity. Frankie is his sister and Josh his nephew. His father had two families. Sam is stunned. Flummoxed.
And so is the audience, now waiting patiently for Sam to tell Frankie and Josh the truth, about himself, as well as the truth about their inheritance. Instead, he plays for time, dissembling, creating opportunities for the three of them to have contact, and not to forget layers of unnecessary melodrama.
However, the reality is that without this painful and even frustrating delay, one that seems interminable, the fulcrum of the film would have ceased to exist.
Having said that, this film offers some fine performances, especially those delivered by Banks and Pfeiffer. And the long denouement is both necessary and satisfying. Conclusion: In many ways, despite the Hollywood varnish, and the sustained, dissembling melodrama, "People Like Us" is interesting to watch and manages, eventually, to find a certain sweet spot.
"Moonrise Kingdom" is a quirky, off-center fable from the imagination of writer-director Wes Anderson.
Movie wonks acquainted with, or addicted to, Anderson's work won't be disappointed. "Moonrise Kingdom" is rich with Anderson arcana and replete with his signature bespoke strangeness.
Set on a New England island, it focuses on Sam Shakursky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), each on the cusp of adolescence. They are crazily in love (as only young people can be, with a wide-eyed, naive enthusiasm).
Suzy is on the island with her parents for the summer. Sam is a Khaki Scout staying at a camp nearby. Having shared letters during the school year, their plan is to run away together to a small cove — Moonrise Kingdom.
But wait. This is a Wes Anderson film and therefore not a typical coming-of-age story. Suzy and Sam are, clearly, precociously different from their peers; but then the island is filled with eccentrics (perhaps tween-teens define eccentricity). Suzy's parents (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray) are comfortably estranged; the island police chief, Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), is a quiet guy who lives alone in a small trailer; the camp Scout master, Ward (Edward Norton), is obsessed with uniforms and inspections. And everyone else is idiosyncratic and unconventional.
Once Suzy and Sam go missing, the hunt is on: Scouts, police and parents join forces.
It's at this point that the film becomes ever more surreal and seemingly contradictory: stilted and endearing, filled with affectation yet sincere, caricatures that can seem original and authentic, scenes of complete improbability yet possessing a soft ring of truth.
If you love movies unabashedly, acknowledging they represent a means for constructing interesting if atypical narratives, then you'll enjoy "Moonrise Kingdom."